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jsouders
10-07-2009, 10:58 PM
Has anyone heard anything on agent Mathew Ferguson? I've looked, but I can't find anything. He's not even listed in P & E.

http://www.mathewferguson.com.au/home.html

According to his website he's worked at quite a few publishing houses, but I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not.

DaveKuzminski
10-07-2009, 11:32 PM
Yes, it's good that he's worked at publishing houses.

SJWangsness
10-08-2009, 01:49 AM
He appears to be Australian, mate, from the e-mail address.

jsouders
10-08-2009, 02:14 AM
He appears to be Australian, mate, from the e-mail address.

I already knew that. It's on his site. Thanks though. I was just curious if anyone has heard of him making any sales or anything or personal experiences.

flyingtart
10-08-2009, 01:46 PM
Wow! Just checked and I know him! This is the same Mathew Ferguson who was a member of YouWriteOn until last year. He gave a lot of great advice and help to people on that site and I bet he'll make a fantastic agent.

Good on you, Mat! Best of luck with it!:)

mathewferguson
10-08-2009, 01:52 PM
Are people allowed to reply on threads about themselves? :-)

You can google me and you'll find some of the books I've written and edited.

The sales I've made have been for myself! Otherwise my experience comes from in-house work creating and pitching projects and then taking them through to publication. I started up paid agent work this year and haven't taken on any writers. I do represent two illustrators - Erin Hunting and Kelly Abbott. The illustration/licensing business is called On The Wall (www.onthewall.com.au).

I do other stuff apart from being an agent. Some websites of mine: www.twosentencestories.com ; www.chaoticempire.com.au ; www.mybookshelfreview.com (got to update that one! eeep) ; www.twitter.com/mathewferguson

cheers,
Mat

mathewferguson
10-08-2009, 01:54 PM
Wow! Just checked and I know him! This is the same Mathew Ferguson who was a member of YouWriteOn until last year. He gave a lot of great advice and help to people on that site and I bet he'll make a fantastic agent.

Good on you, Mat! Best of luck with it!:)

Ha ha - I just signed up and logged in to check and then your post appears! I'm glad you found my advice useful. I don't remember what I said unfortunately. Was it anything about how to make a really spectacular home-made pizza base?

:-)

cheers,
Mat

jsouders
10-08-2009, 10:43 PM
Are people allowed to reply on threads about themselves? :-)

You can google me and you'll find some of the books I've written and edited.

The sales I've made have been for myself! Otherwise my experience comes from in-house work creating and pitching projects and then taking them through to publication. I started up paid agent work this year and haven't taken on any writers. I do represent two illustrators - Erin Hunting and Kelly Abbott. The illustration/licensing business is called On The Wall (www.onthewall.com.au (http://www.onthewall.com.au)).

I do other stuff apart from being an agent. Some websites of mine: www.twosentencestories.com (http://www.twosentencestories.com) ; www.chaoticempire.com.au (http://www.chaoticempire.com.au) ; www.mybookshelfreview.com (http://www.mybookshelfreview.com) (got to update that one! eeep) ; www.twitter.com/mathewferguson (http://www.twitter.com/mathewferguson)

cheers,
Mat


Thanks for joining to let us know a little about yourself. I'll be sure to check out those sites. Thanks again. :)

Phantom Writer
10-09-2009, 12:36 AM
Love Mathew's sense of humor on his website. His personality really shines through in his tale of "The origin story". If you haven't read it yet- I'd highly suggest it.

On another note- if you get signed by him- can you take going to Australia to meet him off your taxes as a business expense? :) Just an idea...

jsouders
10-09-2009, 12:38 AM
Love Mathew's sense of humor on his website. His personality really shines through in his tale of "The origin story". If you haven't read it yet- I'd highly suggest it.

On another note- if you get signed by him- can you take going to Australia to meet him off your taxes as a business expense? :) Just an idea...

I'm sure our accountants would love that. :)

Phantom Writer
10-09-2009, 12:40 AM
Awww... come now, that HAS to be tax deductable? Right? I mean it's FOR business afterall and the love of the craft. ;) Am I laying it on thick? I don't think my taxman would go for that either. If Mathew's still in here- maybe he has some ideas on this? I'm sure he doesn't want everyone packing their bags and jetting 15 hours to his front door step.


I'm sure our accountants would love that. :)

jsouders
10-09-2009, 04:02 AM
Awww... come now, that HAS to be tax deductable? Right? I mean it's FOR business afterall and the love of the craft. ;) Am I laying it on thick? I don't think my taxman would go for that either. If Mathew's still in here- maybe he has some ideas on this? I'm sure he doesn't want everyone packing their bags and jetting 15 hours to his front door step.
I don't know a trip to the Outback would be a nice reprieve from the murky depths of my book. :)


Ughh? I just sent a note to be certain he accepts attachments, and got back a confirmation of submission. Ouch. So does anyone know if he expects mss. to be sent as attachments?

I'm gonna look real foolish...but onward and upward! I sent mine with an attachment, it went through. Haven't heard anything from him though. :) Maybe if he's still around he let us know what his stand is on attachments.

Old Hack
10-09-2009, 08:41 PM
Mathew, I wondered: is Chaotic Empire your blog? (http://chaoticempire.com.au/)

I found a post on it in which you discuss the possibility of you publishing writers (http://chaoticempire.com.au/mathew/ferguson/freelance/writer/a-new-book-publishing-model/), after a fashion. You wrote,


So I was pondering my publishing skills the other day and I suddenly realised I had almost enough to be a publisher in my own right.

[snipping]

I wonder what the response would be if I offered a new service:

I’ll edit your book, write a blurb, get a cover designed, write sales material, come up with a sales plan, create a website … for a 10% royalty on sales. All books will be distributed on torrents as free content as well as uploaded to Amazon and other ebook sale sites. Anywhere it doesn’t cost money to put it. (So that means no to most self-publishing companies who want some cash to simply hold files for you until someone buys the book.) When torrents and downloads show there is an audience then the book moves towards paper publishing. But only when there is a proven audience.

I think this would be a viable business model for publishing books.

Please be clear: I'm not suggesting that you're offering a publishing service NOW: just that from that blog post, it seems to me that you're considering doing so. If you go ahead, isn't that going to be just a teensy little conflict of interests as far as your new agenting venture goes? And I notice that you didn't discuss any real distribution for the books that might be published under your proposed scheme, which would make it pretty unlikely to generate a good number of sales.

I'd welcome your comments on this.

(You might also like to correct the many typos on your agency website: I suspect a lot of them have appeared in the translation of text-to-website, but they don't give a good impression, and are particularly worrying bearing in mind that you state that you edit your clients' work. It would put me off, for sure.)

priceless1
10-09-2009, 11:16 PM
Keeping in this same vein, I look at new agents with a very wary eye because I've seen too many hang out a shingle and call themselves an agent - and have very little background or contacts. Why should that matter to you? Because the chances of me reviewing your work just went downhill. And it's not just little fry trade publishers like me, but the big guys as well.

This business is all about contacts and experience. While I think Mathew has a lovely sense of humor and is a fine gent, I don't see anything on his website that says he has established relationships with editors or can even get the job done.

Also, since he's so far away, where does he plan on focusing his sales? US? UK?

Old Hack
10-10-2009, 01:00 AM
Old Hack, I for one don't see any typos on Mat Ferguson's agency website. I wonder why the difference for you and for me? I think I see well enough to spot them.

It's not my job to copy-edit Mr Ferguson's website but since you asked, here are a few of the more obvious ones.

Front page, fourth tab: "Services and rate"

Front page, body copy: "Publisher" shouldn't be capitalised.

Under the "Philosophy" tab, there are several instances where question-marks are used where apostrophes are required.

There are plenty more, but as I said--it's not my job to correct those mistakes, it's his. And he hasn't. Which I find worrying considering he says that he edits the work of his clients.

mathewferguson
10-10-2009, 05:00 AM
Mathew, I wondered: is Chaotic Empire your blog? (http://chaoticempire.com.au/)

I found a post on it in which you discuss the possibility of you publishing writers (http://chaoticempire.com.au/mathew/ferguson/freelance/writer/a-new-book-publishing-model/), after a fashion. You wrote,



Please be clear: I'm not suggesting that you're offering a publishing service NOW: just that from that blog post, it seems to me that you're considering doing so. If you go ahead, isn't that going to be just a teensy little conflict of interests as far as your new agenting venture goes? And I notice that you didn't discuss any real distribution for the books that might be published under your proposed scheme, which would make it pretty unlikely to generate a good number of sales.

I'd welcome your comments on this.

(You might also like to correct the many typos on your agency website: I suspect a lot of them have appeared in the translation of text-to-website, but they don't give a good impression, and are particularly worrying bearing in mind that you state that you edit your clients' work. It would put me off, for sure.)

Hi Jane - yes, Chaotic Empire is a blog-ish site of mine. It also has a lot of random writing I've done over the years there. The post you are referring to is me musing over the state of the industry and thinking about the future. You see, I do think paper publishing is slowly collapsing inward under the weight of old methodologies that were suitable for an earlier age. At Pearson I once suggested we add a small compass to an atlas as an interesting low-cost extra. What? Add a TOY to a BOOK! The idea was sacrilege. Yet companies like Parragon, Funtastic, Hinkler and Five Mile Press have no such qualms and as a result are slicing away at the market.

I do understand the concerns of "are they really an agent or a front for a bullshit self-publishing company who will take my money". I've worked as a writer and editor for years now and I utterly despise those who take money for services they don't deliver.

So to answer your question - the post was musing. I'm sure if you researched more you'll find posts from me talking about the stupidity of rude editors at publishing companies and the like.

If I ever were to set up my own publishing company (which I have no doubt I could do, given my experience) then I would have to make a very clear distinction between me working as an agent and me working as a publisher.

Thanks for pointing out those stupid question marks that have again appeared on my website. They are caused by Joomla, the website software. I've corrected these multiple times but due to some other deeper error, they appear again. I wouldn't work with someone who had such stupid errors on their site so you can imagine who foolish and frustrated I feel that they continue to appear.

mathewferguson
10-10-2009, 05:17 AM
Keeping in this same vein, I look at new agents with a very wary eye because I've seen too many hang out a shingle and call themselves an agent - and have very little background or contacts. Why should that matter to you? Because the chances of me reviewing your work just went downhill. And it's not just little fry trade publishers like me, but the big guys as well.

This business is all about contacts and experience. While I think Mathew has a lovely sense of humor and is a fine gent, I don't see anything on his website that says he has established relationships with editors or can even get the job done.

Also, since he's so far away, where does he plan on focusing his sales? US? UK?

What kind of evidence would you like to see to know that I have established relationships with editors or can even get the job done?

Are you a UK resident perhaps? Next time you step on a British Airways flight have a look at the book they hand out to the children - I wrote that. They've printed a million copies for distribution on every international flight BA makes.

If you come to Australia and fly Qantas you'll also get a book for the children that I wrote. We're a bit smaller than the EU so that one is only 300,000 copies per year.

You could do a bit of web-searching and you'll find my name as author and editor on quite a few books also.

Apart from that, I'm not sure what else you would like to see. I haven't taken on any writers yet because I haven't found a submission that I like. Through On The Wall (an agency focussed on illustrators and licensed properties www.onthewall.com.au) I represent two illustrators, if that carries any weight at all.

Most of the times I suppose it comes down to a conversation and how you feel about me from what you read on the website (and on my various websites, twitter, etc). As there is no formal training or accreditation process for agents, most of them are somewhat like me. Former editors who changed careers. Former freelance writers looking to expand their service offerings.

The core of my decision to start agent work was based around two factors:
1) I've worked with a lot of agents and honestly, the job of being an agent isn't that difficult;
2) I was giving out free advice on contracts, who to contact, how to pitch, editing concept documents, referring work to writers, editors, illustrators and graphic designers, getting my freelance friends work ... and all for free. I referred a $10,000 job to a fellow writer and only later on realised that I should have charged a commission.

As for being far away ... I'm a Melbourne writer who got his work on British Airways and Jet Airways (India). Is that a long enough reach? :-)

cheers,
Mat

Phantom Writer
10-10-2009, 05:51 AM
Thank you so much for hanging out in Absolute Write and providing answers to questions! When I fly to Melbourne to visit your shop I'll make sure and ask for one of your booklets so you can autograph it for me! (I've decided to visit Australia and try to take it as a tax write off.) I'm sure Phil (my taxman) will love me in 2010 for that. ;)

In all honesty though, does it matter that an agent is in another country/state/etc from you? Most work is done over the phone, fax, email or mail now.


What kind of evidence would you like to see to know that I have established relationships with editors or can even get the job done?

Are you a UK resident perhaps? Next time you step on a British Airways flight have a look at the book they hand out to the children - I wrote that. They've printed a million copies for distribution on every international flight BA makes.

If you come to Australia and fly Qantas you'll also get a book for the children that I wrote. We're a bit smaller than the EU so that one is only 300,000 copies per year.

You could do a bit of web-searching and you'll find my name as author and editor on quite a few books also.

Apart from that, I'm not sure what else you would like to see. I haven't taken on any writers yet because I haven't found a submission that I like. Through On The Wall (an agency focussed on illustrators and licensed properties www.onthewall.com.au (http://www.onthewall.com.au)) I represent two illustrators, if that carries any weight at all.

Most of the times I suppose it comes down to a conversation and how you feel about me from what you read on the website (and on my various websites, twitter, etc). As there is no formal training or accreditation process for agents, most of them are somewhat like me. Former editors who changed careers. Former freelance writers looking to expand their service offerings.

The core of my decision to start agent work was based around two factors:
1) I've worked with a lot of agents and honestly, the job of being an agent isn't that difficult;
2) I was giving out free advice on contracts, who to contact, how to pitch, editing concept documents, referring work to writers, editors, illustrators and graphic designers, getting my freelance friends work ... and all for free. I referred a $10,000 job to a fellow writer and only later on realised that I should have charged a commission.

As for being far away ... I'm a Melbourne writer who got his work on British Airways and Jet Airways (India). Is that a long enough reach? :-)

cheers,
Mat

priceless1
10-10-2009, 06:14 PM
Apart from that, I'm not sure what else you would like to see.
It's lovely that you've had some great writing successes, and I hope that continues. I go to agents' websites looking for their sales history and client list. If they have authors I've heard of and have some great sales under their belt, this tells me they have the chops to get the job done.

In the case of a new agent, such as yourself, I look at their qualifications. For instance, most successful agents worked with other literary agencies and learned the business. They established relationships with editors from large and small houses. Merely having a list of represented authors carries zero weight because I know a number of ineffective agents who have large lists of authors.

As you say, anyone can hang out their shingle and call themselves an agent, but it takes far more work than that to become a successful, respected agent.

Since you're in Aussie, it might be a good idea to let authors know which country(ies) you plan on focusing. US? UK?


Most of the times I suppose it comes down to a conversation and how you feel about me from what you read on the website (and on my various websites, twitter, etc).
Yes, this is my point. Your website is filled with some nice things that reveal you to have a wonderful sense of humor. But that doesn't sell books. When I'm researching an agent who has queried me, I look at their website's content. If it contains little red meat, then I draw opinions based on what I see (or don't see).


1) I've worked with a lot of agents and honestly, the job of being an agent isn't that difficult;
WHAT? Not that difficult? Wow, where do you get that idea? All the agents I know work as many horrible hours as I do; almost 24/7. There is absolutely NOTHING easy about being an agent, and frankly, this comment disturbs me a great deal.

You have to work very hard to establish relationships with editors, both large and small. You want to be able to pick up the phone and say, "Hey, Lynn, I have a great work that looks to be right up your alley." It's those friendly, casual relationships that get books sold in many cases.

Then you have to have the product to back it up. An agent who consistently sends me garbage manuscripts is someone whose queries go to the bottom of my pile.


2) I was giving out free advice on contracts, who to contact, how to pitch, editing concept documents, referring work to writers, editors, illustrators and graphic designers, getting my freelance friends work ... and all for free.
Contract advice requires experience and a healthy knowledge of literary law. My beagle can give great contractual advice as well; it just wouldn't be sound advice. What I'm saying here is that your website should contain your qualifications for giving out contractual legal advice and other specifics that solidify your reputation and experience that qualifies you as a successful agent.

Please know that I'm not trying to attack you, but merely to bring out holes that I think are a concern. And hey, all this could be moot if you start making solid sales in about six months. That would mean that you do have established relationships with editors and that you're on your way.

Old Hack
10-11-2009, 12:49 AM
Still Alive, the heading reads "Services and rate". I'm not sure I agree with you about the plural issue but even if I let that one go there's still a problem with inconsistent capitalisation there, which should be addressed.

Regarding the question-marks vs apostrophes issue, Mr Ferguson has already acknowledged that this is an ongoing problem which he's been struggling to fix so I'm not sure why you're berating me for mentioning it. It could be down to the browsers we're using: I'm on Internet Explorer 7, which might make a difference--what are you using?

As for hair-splitting, that's what editors do. They notice picky little problems in a text and they fix them. If one of my books was going to be edited by someone who didn't pay attention to such details I'd not be happy at all. If Mr Ferguson is going to edit his clients' work then he needs to be able to be just as hair-splitting as I've been, otherwise he's not going to do them any favours at all.

mathewferguson
10-11-2009, 02:06 PM
Mat, I doubt that anyone on here doubts your successes. But do they translate to your knowing editors at publishing houses? You surely can understand that British Airways doesn't qualify as a publisher.

I think it was Old Hack who asked if your contacts were in the U.S. or U.K. Personally, I hope for the latter. In any case, would you mind answering? I sure you'll agree it's a legitimate question.

Thank you.

Hi - I do know editors at various publishing companies. But this doesn't mean anything really. Editors swap in and out of jobs quite regularly. An editor I knew in Penguin Australia then went to Penguin UK and then moved on to some no-name smaller publisher. After that I don't know where she went. So what does that mean for Penguin Australia and Penguin UK? It means that I'll pick up the phone like I've done many times before and introduce myself as an agent and they'll take my call. It's actually not as hard as people think.

mathewferguson
10-11-2009, 02:42 PM
It's lovely that you've had some great writing successes, and I hope that continues. I go to agents' websites looking for their sales history and client list. If they have authors I've heard of and have some great sales under their belt, this tells me they have the chops to get the job done.

In the case of a new agent, such as yourself, I look at their qualifications. For instance, most successful agents worked with other literary agencies and learned the business. They established relationships with editors from large and small houses. Merely having a list of represented authors carries zero weight because I know a number of ineffective agents who have large lists of authors.

As you say, anyone can hang out their shingle and call themselves an agent, but it takes far more work than that to become a successful, respected agent.

Since you're in Aussie, it might be a good idea to let authors know which country(ies) you plan on focusing. US? UK?


Yes, this is my point. Your website is filled with some nice things that reveal you to have a wonderful sense of humor. But that doesn't sell books. When I'm researching an agent who has queried me, I look at their website's content. If it contains little red meat, then I draw opinions based on what I see (or don't see).


WHAT? Not that difficult? Wow, where do you get that idea? All the agents I know work as many horrible hours as I do; almost 24/7. There is absolutely NOTHING easy about being an agent, and frankly, this comment disturbs me a great deal.

You have to work very hard to establish relationships with editors, both large and small. You want to be able to pick up the phone and say, "Hey, Lynn, I have a great work that looks to be right up your alley." It's those friendly, casual relationships that get books sold in many cases.

Then you have to have the product to back it up. An agent who consistently sends me garbage manuscripts is someone whose queries go to the bottom of my pile.


Contract advice requires experience and a healthy knowledge of literary law. My beagle can give great contractual advice as well; it just wouldn't be sound advice. What I'm saying here is that your website should contain your qualifications for giving out contractual legal advice and other specifics that solidify your reputation and experience that qualifies you as a successful agent.

Please know that I'm not trying to attack you, but merely to bring out holes that I think are a concern. And hey, all this could be moot if you start making solid sales in about six months. That would mean that you do have established relationships with editors and that you're on your way.

Hi Priceless.

Let me ask you - what do you think sells books if not a sense of humour? :-)

I'll move on from this to the question of just how hard being an agent actually is. You see, I've had this conversation quite a few times over the years and I've had it with quite a few agents too. I maintain that being an agent is not particularly difficult once you've mastered certain techniques in addition to having a decent sense of what will sell.

To put it nicely ... agents who say they work 24/7 are liars. The agents who say you need to work very hard to establish relationships with editors are liars. Editors don't really want relationships with agents and that is the truth. Editors come and go and so do agents. It is one job position communicating with another job position for mutual benefit but it isn't like it used to be with editors holding their positions for 20 years.

I know this sounds quite harsh and it is something the middlemen don't want you to hear but it is the truth. I've had similar conversations with people who will tell you that being a freelance writer is difficult too. It is not. If you can pick up the phone and sell yourself, it's quite easy.

To sum up: don't put agents in ivory towers.

Back to the agent job. Here is what happens: I find some amazing book I love. I ring a publishing company and they put me through to the editor. I tell them who I am and what I've got. They decide to meet me or not. Then I pitch the work to them. If they are out of state/country then they might have it sent to them and the pitching occurs over the phone. Does that sound difficult at all? It's phone calls and then driving in to have a coffee with an editor (who love getting out of the office).

I suppose I could talk a bit more about why being an agent isn't that difficult but it is a common myth in publishing that it is a horribly hard job and striking down a myth can be near impossible. It is a job like any other: eight hours a day, five days a week and the hardest part is picking up that phone.

As for proof of qualifications ... I once managed $10 million of books per year. I wrote contracts. I negotiated contracts. I made whopping amounts of money for the people who listened to me and those who didn't ... well, they didn't make money at all. But how could I prove any of this to anyone? I don't have a copy of the Incredibles licensing contract that I can show. I suppose at some point you may have to simply decide to trust me.

Of course if you decide not to, then don't submit anything for consideration.

I am a big fan of the easy casual relationship but we simply don't live in the economic conditions that make this possible. An editor who stays at a single job for more than about three years is a rarity.

I know a lot of what I say when I talk about publishing can ruffle feathers. Although I've stepped into agent work, I don't have a high opinion of the profession as a whole. I think even less of those people who sell manuscript appraisals. I've worked as a freelance writer and editor since 2005 and I've met plenty of fakes, cheats, liars and charlatans. I once had an agent make me the lovely offer of him taking 40% of my earnings and he would graciously allow me the usage of his letterhead. Wow, use of letterhead for ONLY 40% of my earnings? What a deal that was.

Hopefully this covers it all. :-)

best,
Mat

mathewferguson
10-11-2009, 02:46 PM
Thank you so much for hanging out in Absolute Write and providing answers to questions! When I fly to Melbourne to visit your shop I'll make sure and ask for one of your booklets so you can autograph it for me! (I've decided to visit Australia and try to take it as a tax write off.) I'm sure Phil (my taxman) will love me in 2010 for that. ;)

In all honesty though, does it matter that an agent is in another country/state/etc from you? Most work is done over the phone, fax, email or mail now.

The time zones can make it hard. The business is very early morning calls and very late evening calls. In either case people aren't really awake! :-)

Do people still use fax? Even paper post is on its way out.

Phantom Writer
10-11-2009, 05:28 PM
I can see where the time zone would cause some issues! Not sure how I'd feel about a call at 3:46am (the time stamp on your posted the below). Not sure my 4 year old would like that either. ;)

I work for the government- they haven't quiet caught up to scan/email yet. ;) So, I'm quiet efficient with a fax machine. I even remember to push *9* most of the time.

Again, thank you for staying and answering everyones questions. All too often we get one or two posts in reply and the agent/publisher stop responding.


The time zones can make it hard. The business is very early morning calls and very late evening calls. In either case people aren't really awake! :-)

Do people still use fax? Even paper post is on its way out.

priceless1
10-11-2009, 05:44 PM
Hi Priceless.

Let me ask you - what do you think sells books if not a sense of humour? :-)
I agree; let's not go there because it's just too easy a mark.


To put it nicely ... agents who say they work 24/7 are liars. The agents who say you need to work very hard to establish relationships with editors are liars.
Oh dear, you really aren't helping yourself, are you? As one who works with agents almost every day, I consider a number of them friends. We're way past trying to impress each other because we don't have the time or energy. Maybe things work differently in Aussie, but here in the US and the UK, agents work achingly hard. Since you're new and have yet to make a real sale, perhaps your opinions are slightly premature.


Editors don't really want relationships with agents and that is the truth.
I'm sorry, but your comment is breathtakingly misguided, and I'm happy your opinions are coming into the open. I don't know of a single successful agent who doesn't work very hard to establish relationships with editors. On the flip side, I've met agents who feel as you do - and their actions and sales mirror that mindset. Agents make calls to editors all the time - to introduce themselves and talk about what they represent - in the hope that their query will move toward the top of the pile rather than at the bottom. That is how sales are made. That, and consistently choosing great projects to represent.

It's true that editors have come and gone, and agents have to establish new relationships. But this is all part of the business for the successful agent. To be clear, there are still many editors who have held their positions for many, many years, so it's a bit misleading to imply that the entire industry was gutted and it's now filled with newbie editors.


I've had similar conversations with people who will tell you that being a freelance writer is difficult too. It is not. If you can pick up the phone and sell yourself, it's quite easy.
Conversations with WHAT people? Being an indie editor is easy enough, but you need to have a solid reputation in order to get your name around. This means your clients have gone on to secure great book deals.



I suppose I could talk a bit more about why being an agent isn't that difficult but it is a common myth in publishing that it is a horribly hard job and striking down a myth can be near impossible.
Perhaps agenting isn't that hard for you. Then again, how many solid sales have you made? How long have you been an agent? I think it's folly to make sweeping statements about an industry when you are only starting out. You don't have the credibility yet.


As for proof of qualifications ... I once managed $10 million of books per year. I wrote contracts. I negotiated contracts. I made whopping amounts of money for the people who listened to me and those who didn't ... well, they didn't make money at all.
But how does this qualify you to sell manuscripts to publishing houses? As an editor, I would be far more impressed if you had worked with a major literary agency for a few years. Managing books and writing contracts doesn't equal selling to editors.


Although I've stepped into agent work, I don't have a high opinion of the profession as a whole.
Good grief, is this a comment you actually want potential clients to read? It's like the first year intern who says he really hates the medical profession. Given that attitude, what kind of doctor will he be? Conversely, why would an author seek you out given your disdain for the profession? How effective will you be? What agenting experience do you bring to the party? Authors work very hard on their books, and your cavalier attitude is dismissive and demeaning.

If you want to be taken seriously, then it's a good idea to have respect and pride for the line of work you've chosen. The agents I know and work with love their jobs - and it shows. Conversely, I've met agents who had your attitude, and it also showed.

What I'm picking up from your posts is that you don't take agenting seriously - almost as if it's a lark for you. Personally, I think authors deserve better than this - agents who value their contribution to the publishing industry and who work long hours to ensure their success. You appear to be a bit wet behind the ears.

eqb
10-11-2009, 06:13 PM
Although I've stepped into agent work, I don't have a high opinion of the profession as a whole.

I have to ask this: If you don't have a high opinion of the profession, why did you become an agent?

eqb
10-11-2009, 06:23 PM
priceless1--at the risk of never being able to send you a query after this :)--I still have to dispute your take on doctors. I've been to doctors who have no patience at all with their patients. So why do so many go to them when they seem to loathe patients? Because they are superb at whatever their specialty is. Their attitude is trumped by their skill.


Your analogy doesn't match the situation, however. This is more like a doctor who despises his own profession.

Or at least, that's what it sounds like to me. That's why I'd like to hear his reasons for getting into agenting.

priceless1
10-11-2009, 06:32 PM
I've been to doctors who have no patience at all with their patients.
Yes, I knew this point was going to come up, and I should have clarified - or picked a better analogy. You answered your own question; attitude trumped by skill. Mat doesn't have any appreciable sales, so his skill is an unknown quantity at this point. I edited my original analogy, but let's get on with the bigger issue.

You suggest that Mat's attitude isn't a reason to write him off. My question to you is why? Isn't the idea to secure representation from someone who has agenting experience (which he hasn't), secured relationships with editors (which he hasn't), and has pride in his job (which he doesn't)? If he lacks respect for his own job, how do you think that will translate over to how well he represents and treats you?

What I'm hearing from you is, "well, I'm new and don't deserve any better." Pish, I say. I have signed many debut authors who went on to gather up fabulous reviews, handsome sales, writing awards, and movie deals. New only means that you haven't done this before. It's in no way a reflection of talent or lackthereof.

Old Hack
10-11-2009, 10:26 PM
I wouldn't want to be represented by an agent who didn't have a high opinion of agenting, or who thought that agents didn't work very hard, or that they didn't work very long hours. Because to me that sounds like someone who has seen what he thinks is an easy job, and has stepped into it without any real experience of or training for the work required: which really doesn't bode well for his clients.

Old Hack
10-11-2009, 10:28 PM
And to go off on a tangent, Still Alive: if you're looking for a UK agent to rep satire, just find out who represents Will Self. There's a good market here for such books, if they're good enough.

Misa Buckley
10-11-2009, 11:05 PM
Mat is Australian and they have a laid-back attitude to almost everything.

That said, he has posted some questionable statements. I'm hoping he'll post again and clarify them.

Maddie
10-12-2009, 12:02 AM
This is a side-note - technically you could write off the trip, but at the end of the year, you have to show that you're making a diligent effort to make a living writing. In other words, make sure you have an income larger than your write-offs. Got audited for 2006, and they disqualified my Schedule C2, although as I argued, all of the income was "gifted" to me - they let that go, too. So, be very, very careful what you try to write off. My tax accountant was superb, handled us for many years, but that grave error cost him two clients (my husband is a professional musician).

-Maddie

priceless1
10-12-2009, 12:33 AM
priceless1, if what you're hearing from me is I'm new and don't know any better, you haven't been reading my postings.
My apologies, Alive. Your questions indicated to me that you were somewhat unfamiliar with the industry.


However to answer you as to why I'd consider Mat: ... Mat appears to share my sense of humor...And so, if he can get an editor to even look at it, and can hype it, and maybe see that it at least has a chance, why shouldn't I take that chance?
I appreciate your quandry, but getting editors to read someone's work hinges on the agent's ability and experience. He could love your work 'til the cows come home, but that won't mean a thing if he doesn't know what he's doing.

Mat says agenting so easy peasy that all he needs to do is pick up the phone and have the editor say, "sure, send it on over." What he doesn't realize is that we say this stuff all the time. That doesn't mean we'll stop what we're doing and actually read it. Chances are it'll go into a very large pile of queries.

So sure, he can tell you that Ms. Big Time Editor is "reading" your manuscript, but that's invariably not the case at all. As I said, agenting is about culminating relationships and creating a reputation. That is how agents get their client's stuff read.


It's just that you and I are on different sides of the fence.
And that's why I post on AW - to give authors an inside view of how we think and operate.


it's hard to write the query letter--more especially the length--in which to "sell" it.
But you need to do this when querying an agent, so I don't understand the problem. Writing a query is tough, but it's all a part of the business of writing. There are no shortcuts to this industry.


So in the meantime, what's to lose?
Oh good gracious; you so do not want to know. In a word; everything. There isn't a horror story I haven't heard or seen.

Old Hack
10-12-2009, 12:42 AM
I have to underline what Priceless said.

My agent has a solid reputation in the publishing business. She gets good deals for her clients, and when she submits my work it gets read and replied to within days--hours, even. Certainly within a week. Last time she sent one of my books out on its rounds it went to eight agents, four of whom replied within two days having read it in its entirety.

An acquaintance of mine has an agent who is starting out. Said agent has publishing experience--as a writer. To my certain knowledge the agent has misinterpreted at least three contracts, and so has lost her clients deals as a result; and it takes months for her clients' books to be looked at by the editors she submits to. The advances that she's negotiated for my acquaintance are less than half the ones my agent gets for me.

My agent works long hours, six days a week, and is spoken of with hushed voices. My acquaintance's agent is referred to as "who?"

flyingtart
10-12-2009, 12:49 AM
Last time she sent one of my books out on its rounds it went to eight agents
Your agent is sending your work to other agents? I haven't heard that one before!

Old Hack
10-12-2009, 01:12 AM
Ooops. That's why I need an editor!

eqb
10-12-2009, 01:28 AM
Am I making sense? All I mean is you can hate (not have a high opinion) and love (be serious) something at the same time.

If I were looking for an agent, I'd want someone who thought their profession did something worthwhile.

Misa Buckley
10-12-2009, 01:56 AM
Maybe he wants to change what he doesn't like - not necessarily a bad thing.

eqb
10-12-2009, 02:10 AM
Maybe he wants to change what he doesn't like - not necessarily a bad thing.

Then he should say that. No?

priceless1
10-12-2009, 02:17 AM
Maybe he wants to change what he doesn't like - not necessarily a bad thing.
Um, how is agenting bad?

Misa Buckley
10-12-2009, 02:20 AM
Like I said in my previous post - it was a questionable statement. I'm not arguing that Mat should have clarified what he meant.

However the guy is Australian, which means he's in bed right now, so he can't answer his critics right now. I'm willing to wait to hear what he has to say.


Um, how is agenting bad?

I didn't say it was! Please read my posts!

Eirin
10-12-2009, 03:28 AM
Then he should say that. No?

Absolutely. Being able to communicate clearly is something I would look for in an agent. A dismissive attitude isn't.

mathewferguson
10-12-2009, 04:02 AM
Hi everyone! I'm going to answer everything in one long mega-post.

I'll start with ... yes, I hold opinions about publishing and agents that cause people to choke on their croissant. These opinions are based on evidence and experience and they do run directly opposite the myths built up around publishing, writing, editing and being an agent.

My first job was with an educational publishing company and it was there that I got the first hints of the difference between the way people say publishing is and the way it actually is. I had read every book I could find on publishing and writing. I had read every website and forum and studied the careers of every writer/editor/publisher/agent that I could. I had bought into the myth somewhat. I realised that publishing was its own little secret society with rules and structures and the only way in was to play along. So I did. I got a terrible job waaaaay down on the totem pole at the educational publishing company because I knew that I only had to get my hand stamped. Once I was inside the secret society I could move to another publisher.

I was right.

I spent a year with the educational publisher and then moved over to Funtastic Publishing as an editor. This is where my idea of what publishing was really got shredded. First up - editors don't read query letters. Huh? But there are all those sites on how to write a killer query letter! So? Editors read the manuscript itself. They don't really care what you have to say about your manuscript and they don't care what you've done before. If the manuscript is decent then your query letter is read. All those websites and books and all those people online stressing out over their query letter -- what a waste of time and effort.

Then came the agents. Now I was an editor I had the opportunity to meet a lot of agents and oh boy, did I get to meet some smiling sharks there. I also got to meet those agents who have been in the business for twenty years ... and have never heard of an e-book. Licensing - what's that? An interstitial flash animation of the main character to be sold to ABC television - gah?

I did get to meet some nice agents and a whole lot of incompetent ones and a whole lot of really old ones who might have been someone once but now the game has changed and they were coasting along on their previous glory. If an agent scoffs at e-books, they have no business being an agent. If an agent can't name three ways a children's character can be licensed, they have no business being an agent!

I remember the old-school been around since the start agent who took the standard contact and didn't alter anything. Didn't even try for more money. She had either no idea or no interest in the welfare of her client ... or couldn't understand modern publishing. Yes, it is possible for a publishing company to sell books to a subsidiary of itself at one cent per copy and the author royalty is based on this figure and yes you do need a specific clause forbidding it! Yes, it is possible for a publishing company to be linked into a multinational network and make sales in Lithuania and you do need a clause to cover this.

I studied the agents I met the same way I had studied publishing. They had time to get out of the office for a coffee so clearly they weren't reading manuscripts every day all day. Some of them had assistants who were slowly being ground into pulp. I got to know all their assistants and had conversations with these wannabe agents. Ah, so you do all the work while the agent does the schmoozing? Tell me more. Ah, so you actually wrote all those notes on the contract and the agent simply delivered the verdict. Tell me more.

I came to know and understand the people I worked with. There are myths that exist simply to justify taking that 15 - 30%. Myth: agents need to have superhuman abilities to work the hours they do. Truth: agents work standard hours. Myth: agents put in incredible amounts of work in effort to secure a publishing deal. Truth: agents call publishers, send in material, have coffee at a meeting and talk about it. Myth: there is deep secret complex knowledge that only agents know. Truth: it is a fairly normal job, like being a salesperson who knows how to edit.

So there was the myth of agent work and then the observed reality. Some assistants were crushed under hard labour, others were cruising along under a brand name. It wasn't as the web/books told it.

But don't dare say the Emperor is wearing no clothes! All middlemen talk up their efforts because they are trying to justify taking a percentage. But there are jobs where the effort (a phone call) does not match the result ($10K advance). Part of the magic of agents is that people who are not agents also buy into the myth and start defending it also!

Publishing isn't the way the web presents it either. Blogs that purport to tell "the truth" about publishing are often laughably misguided. When I read a site that claims a query letter is vitally important, I start to laugh. No, the quality of your manuscript is vitally important. The story is the only thing that matters. Not your font, not your spacing, not your query letter. The. Story.

Working in publishing isn't some secret society. It is a job that is within the capabilities of most people. That is one of the key things about jobs: they are within our capabilities. We go to work and we can accomplish the work. We may be sometimes stretched and there are people who can't do certain jobs but on the whole, they are within our capability. Editors are not sacred beings who need to be sucked up to. They are people who love books and writing and want to bring beautiful things into the world. Agents are not slaving away with superhuman effort. They are working a fairly normal job that does require some specialised knowledge.

Moving on the next big myth: agents and editors are buddies. Friends even. They develop warm working relationships and this will get that query to the top of the pile. Oh my what a load of b.s. that one is.
Publishing is not the way it used to be. Agents are not hanging out with editors and there are no grand scandals back in New York. Publishing is a cut-throat business. Every single publisher is looking for the next Harry Potter (for example) and they will take a call from anyone who says they are an agent. They are desperately trying to get the big books, to find the new authors and lock them into contracts, to find those book-movie-theme park ride titles. It is not cups of tea and well yes chaps I do quite enjoy the protagonist's journey. It is marketing and sales and licensing and international opportunities and book to film, book to animation, book to lunchbox, book to television series. Publishers hide what they are developing even as they seek to uncover their competition's new list. Publishers directly take successful books and then seek out people to create read-alikes. They steal formatting and cover design. It. Is. Not. A. Friendly. Industry.

A part of this frenzy is the churn. Publishers churn. Editors churn. Salespeople appear and disappear. If an editor can't bring in the big money then they are out. It isn't enough to be able to fix up the grammar - an editor must be able to find new work and bring it to the company. This is why editors will meet with almost anyone. This is why junior editors will meet with almost anyone. This is why editors do skulk around writing sites and check out e-books and go to writing groups and lie about what they do for a living - they want to find the next big thing.

Let's go back to the myth though. Editors and agents have warm working relationships. Oh, doesn't it sound nice? Oh, doesn't it sound like someone trying to justify taking 15% would say to you? Agents are claiming a secret connection - a special connection that you as a writer cannot possibly make. This special relationship is worth 15%. Really? Editors change with such frequency that the idea is ludicrous. The churn and the expectations of profit have obliterated ye olde industry of publishing and replaced it with a hungry desperate one.

Let's go next to the apprenticeship myth. The only way to be an agent is to work at an established agency for years. Or to put it more accurately: the only way to be an agent is to slave away at an agency for years and after building up a lot of money for that agent who has promised you that one day you'll be a partner in the agency you realise it is never going to happen and so you head out on your own.
There is a package of skills one needs to be an agent, an editor, a publisher and a salesperson within publishing. They are essentially identical. One must know how to edit. One must know how to discern great books from merely good books. One must know how to pitch. One must understand contracts. One must feel comfortable talking to strangers.

That's it. Not too difficult really. This is why editors can become agents and publishers become agents and agents become editors and agents become writers ...

On to my opinion of the agenting profession. Yes, I can understand how it appears strange that I have a very low opinion of agents in general and then I am working as an agent. You see, I have many freelancer friends due to being a freelancer myself. Writers, editors, artists and illustrators and almost all of them have had the opportunity to meet up with agents. Agents who almost always lie and brag and are completely unscrupulous. They promise big but deliver little. They talk about agenting as though it were the most difficult job in the world and there is no way that poor little illustrator could possibly survive that big bad harsh world out there. They offer things like taking 40% for use of a letterhead. They hand over contracts that give the agent RIGHTS to material! Or they are simply clueless.

There are good agents. I have met them. They understand their market and what they are trying to do but they are far outweighed by the bad agents. This is why sites like Absolute Write exist. My view of what is a bad agent goes deeper than simply shifty behaviour. I repeat: if an agent scoffs at an ebook, they have no business being an agent. If your agents cannot tell you what the acronym SEO stands for, they have no business being an agent. If your agent doesn't know what a torrent is. If your agent doesn't know what an interstitial is. If your agent doesn't know that a children's character can be illustrated and licensed to appear on a tote bag for sale on the web to Americans ... they have no business being an agent. If they are not at least attending a licensing fair, they have no business being an agent. You get the idea. It is not enough to know the standard picture book length. One must know all the opportunities that exist in the world and know how to access them.

I became an agent because I love creative work and want to push it into the world. I want to find the picture book that becomes an animated series. I want to find the adult fiction book that spreads around the world. I have a deep and abiding love for creative pursuits and I want to spend all my time in this world. I have met so many people burned by bad agents that they give up or simply stick to their little website and don't look at more opportunities. I want to believe that it is possible to be an ethical agent and a good agent at the same time. I also want to push out those old agents who have kept Australian publishing in particular locked down and stagnant because they have no idea what Wordpress is.

To sum up my agent experience ... I do actually have it. I was simply doing it for free. I've negotiated contracts, put together concept documents, made the phone calls, gotten the work and I've done that all for free. When I was a freelance editor who worked for pay I also edited books for free on the side. That doesn't mean that experience has no value. I also did manage $10 million of books for two years and all that that entails. Contracts, negotiation, pitching, deals ...

Wow, long response! Moving along ...

It is incredibly easy for anyone to "hang out a shingle" as the cliche goes and call themselves an agent. Many websites have very skimpy "about" sections. A lot of these agents are really fronts for vanity publishing or fee-based terrible editing. For those that are not, I don't understand how they get any books published. No experience working in a publishing company and they expect to know what to say? No experience pitching a book and they think they can do it? Hmm.

If you have had this experience however then it isn't all that hard.

I'm a bit of an anomaly within my industry anyway. I'm an editor who can write. Or I'm a writer who can edit. Or I'm an editor who can publish. I don't think someone can be a good editor without being a good writer. I don't think someone can be a good writer without being a good editor. This is why many writers were schoolteachers or copywriters in their life. I'm a writer who can agent. And an agent who can write. And an agent who can edit.

Finally, regarding myths, part of the code once one steps into publishing in some way is an unspoken agreement to continue to spread the myth. Agents slave away all hours of the day and night! Query letters really do matter! Publishing companies who say they don't accept unsolicited manuscripts really don't accept them! Being an agent is the most difficult job ever created! All of these myths are not true and I maintain this not because I'm wet behind the ears or have no experience but because I have a lot of experience and have seen the levers behind the curtain. Writers who get rejected also buy into the myths of an arcane industry that does things for its own dark purposes because that is a better answer than "no, your work is terrible". They would rather believe they can't sell a book because the publishing industry is some mysterious flighty creature than believe it is a standard industry like any other and they simply were not good enough this time.

Query letters are vital! No ... your manuscript quality was vital and you can't sell your book because it isn't good enough.

Agents work superhuman hours and this is why I haven't got a response! No ... your manuscript quality isn't good enough and they've put your work in a pile to be responded to sometime in the next six months.

Agents and editors are best buddies and this is why an agent is worth 15%! No ... they are not friends and most times an editor has never spoken to that particular agent before. They are worth 15% but for other reasons.

cheers,
Mat

priceless1
10-12-2009, 04:21 AM
Fact: publishing obviously runs far different in Australia than the US and UK.

mathewferguson
10-12-2009, 04:35 AM
Fact: publishing obviously runs far different in Australia than the US and UK.

Ah, special pleading. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_pleading

No specific response but rather a "fact" that states that Australia is a special case. What applies in Australia does not apply in the US and UK.

I contend that there are no "obvious" differences in publishing between Australia, the US and UK.

From my experience, the UK care a lot more about content than the US. At a certain point, the US publishers stop working on on improving the work and focus on improving the marketing.

The US publishing industry is a lot more innovative than the UK or Australia but I put that down to the US being a culture exporting country.

The biggest differences are of scale. The US market is some 300 million. The Australia market is 21 million.

Could you expand on your "fact"?

priceless1
10-12-2009, 05:20 AM
Could you expand on your "fact"?
Goodness; where to begin.

First up - editors don't read query letters.
Here in the US, we most certainly do read query letters. Every day. The query letter is the agent's or author's pitch. Based on the pitch, editors ask for partials or fulls. If a query letter isn't up to standards, we will never even see the manuscript.

Your description of agents differs greatly from the agents over here. You make them sound like the majority are little more than bumbling fools. That isn't what you'd find over here. Of course, there are ineffective agents who are vastly undereducated, but they aren't the standard.


Truth: agents work standard hours. Myth: agents put in incredible amounts of work in effort to secure a publishing deal. Truth: agents call publishers, send in material, have coffee at a meeting and talk about it. Myth: there is deep secret complex knowledge that only agents know. Truth: it is a fairly normal job, like being a salesperson who knows how to edit.
That isn't the case here in the US, and I know a few UK agents who would say the same about their country. I think it's assumptive to make sweeping generalizations about all agents and all publishers when your sphere of experience hasn't reached beyond Australia's borders.

You've only just begun your own adventure into the agenting side of publishing and have only managed to come up with your personal opinions of how the industry works. Talk to me in six months. If, as you insist, this silly game of agenting and publishing is as easy as a phone call, then I'll expect to read about your many large sales. Until then, it's all pretty much conjecture and hyperbole.

victoriastrauss
10-12-2009, 05:20 AM
In the US, agents and publishers (or at any rate, publishers that accept unagented submissions) certainly do read query letters. If your query doesn't make the grade, your ms. probably will never be seen. Not so in the UK, where a simple covering letter is usually all that's necessary--and I would suspect Australia, with its much smaller book market, is similar. But please don't tell US writers that query letters aren't important--because over here, they really are.

- Victoria

mathewferguson
10-12-2009, 06:39 AM
Goodness; where to begin.

Here in the US, we most certainly do read query letters. Every day. The query letter is the agent's or author's pitch. Based on the pitch, editors ask for partials or fulls. If a query letter isn't up to standards, we will never even see the manuscript.

Your description of agents differs greatly from the agents over here. You make them sound like the majority are little more than bumbling fools. That isn't what you'd find over here. Of course, there are ineffective agents who are vastly undereducated, but they aren't the standard.


That isn't the case here in the US, and I know a few UK agents who would say the same about their country. I think it's assumptive to make sweeping generalizations about all agents and all publishers when your sphere of experience hasn't reached beyond Australia's borders.

You've only just begun your own adventure into the agenting side of publishing and have only managed to come up with your personal opinions of how the industry works. Talk to me in six months. If, as you insist, this silly game of agenting and publishing is as easy as a phone call, then I'll expect to read about your many large sales. Until then, it's all pretty much conjecture and hyperbole.

Perhaps I should be less modest about my experience and accomplishments but I am Australian and we don't usually bignote ourselves.

I will say this ... I'm not making sweeping generalisations about all agents and all publishers. My experience does reach beyond Australia's borders. I'm not beginning my "adventure" into the agenting side of publishing. I've been on the agent side for about three years. I've simply made it official and started collecting money for it.

I disagree with you on query letters. You sound as though you are talking about the next level of absurdity - the query letter for the query. Who does such a thing? Query letters travel with partials. They don't travel alone.

I don't think agenting is "a silly game". I simply refuse to accord it some holy position.

mathewferguson
10-12-2009, 06:49 AM
In the US, agents and publishers (or at any rate, publishers that accept unagented submissions) certainly do read query letters. If your query doesn't make the grade, your ms. probably will never be seen. Not so in the UK, where a simple covering letter is usually all that's necessary--and I would suspect Australia, with its much smaller book market, is similar. But please don't tell US writers that query letters aren't important--because over here, they really are.

- Victoria

I still respectfully disagree.

The work is the only thing that is important. Not the query letter, not the margins, not the writer's background as a zookeeper or whatever other bit of marketing fluff might be available.

The query letter is only important as a barrier to filter out wannabe writers. Paper based submissions serve the same purpose. By making it difficult to submit material for consideration, only the truly dedicated will jump through the hoops. This, in theory, gets rid of the writer who completes their first draft and then finds an email address to send it to.

I've seen the "query for the query" and look forward to the next ridiculous iteration: agents who work on submitting your work to agents. Then there will be agents who submit to the agents who submit work to agents. What fun. I suppose those terrible and useless manuscript appraisal businesses are essentially working in this area already.

My advice for US writers who come across agents insisting on the query for the query: find someone else.

James D. Macdonald
10-12-2009, 07:21 AM
Ah, special pleading. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_pleading

Wikipedia is not a reliable source, and should not be referenced.

mathewferguson
10-12-2009, 07:35 AM
Wikipedia is not a reliable source, and should not be referenced.

Wikipedia is the most convenient source to summarise special pleading. The concept is sound.

If you'd like some more examples (quick web search):
http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/special-pleading.html
http://www.fallacyfiles.org/specplea.html

This is a great article by Cory Doctorow where he discusses special pleading: http://www.locusmag.com/Perspectives/2009/09/cory-doctorow-special-pleading.html

Special pleading was being used earlier to respond to the various claims I made regarding publishing and agents:
Mat: Publishing and agent work are X.
Response: Although publishing and agent work may be X, we are in special circumstance C (namely, being in the UK or US).
Therefore X does not apply.

Or the special case is Australia.
Mat: Publishing is X.
Response: Publishing may be X but only in your special circumstances (C). Therefore X doesn't apply.



Australia is not like the US and UK. While publishing may be the way you describe it in Australia, your description does not apply elsewhere.

James D. Macdonald
10-12-2009, 07:47 AM
Wikipedia is the most convenient source to summarise special pleading. The concept is sound.

Nevertheless, Wikipedia is not a reliable source and should not be referenced.

priceless1
10-12-2009, 08:06 AM
Well I think we've taken a dip into the ridiculous. Mat, good luck to you, mate. You'll need it. Do keep us informed as to your success.

mathewferguson
10-12-2009, 08:15 AM
Nevertheless, Wikipedia is not a reliable source and should not be referenced.

I think Wikipedia is fine to reference for some things.

The concept or idea exists in places other than Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia article is a "good enough" summary of the concept/idea.

The discussion is not about the validity or providing proof/evidence but rather giving a passing reference to a concept so people can familarise themselves with it.

I used the reference to Wikipedia so people could familarise themselves with a good-enough explanation of what special pleading is.

I don't entirely agree with "Wikipedia is not a reliable source". Comparisons with Encyclopedia Britannica found a similar level of errors in both. Wikipedia was found to have a much vaster range of topics however, including an article on Encyclopedia Britannica whereas EB had no Wikipedia article.

mathewferguson
10-12-2009, 08:24 AM
Well I think we've taken a dip into the ridiculous. Mat, good luck to you, mate. You'll need it. Do keep us informed as to your success.

What do you mean by "we've taken a dip into the ridiculous"?

I took the time to write a whopping detailed response and I get back a simple FACT: X is not like Y. I feel like I wasted my time explaining myself.

The things I've said are not foolish or misguided. I'm not a newbie and living in Australia doesn't provide the special case to explain away my claims about publishing and agents.

I have encountered this type of response before. Dare say the Emperor is wearing no clothes and out will come those who insist he is.

Let me ask you this: what do you think of an agent who doesn't know what SEO is? I think they are old and out of touch. You?

Emily Winslow
10-12-2009, 10:15 AM
Perhaps I should be less modest about my experience and accomplishments but I am Australian and we don't usually bignote ourselves.

It's not about being modest v. not modest. It's about giving writers the information they need to make a decision about whether you're a good match for them. You've vaguely mentioned important-sounding responsibilities, but without any substance (company names, job titles) to support them (and only ever in defensive, grandiose response, rather than up front). As you say, there are many lousy agents out there muddying the waters. All agents should be clear about what experience they've had. Hopefully, in the future, you'll have sales to back you up. Those sales are all the experience you need, if you have them. But if you're relying on other experiences, just state what they are, without bluster. You've come across, to me at least, as sneering at us for not appreciating your background, without having first clarified what your background is.


I don't think agenting is "a silly game". I simply refuse to accord it some holy position.

There is a vast gulf between "silly game" and "holy position." My agent is skilled and works hard. Concerns are cropping up here because you dismiss the "working hard" part, and also dismiss the need to justify your claimed "skills" with specific experience.


First up - editors don't read query letters

Well, agents do. So writers, especially American writers, need to have a good one.

Old Hack
10-12-2009, 10:39 AM
In America, a query letter is all that most agents see. They don't accept sample pages along with those queries, so it's wrong to say that they'll skip the query and go straight to the pages.

In the UK, sample pages are sent with a covering letter and yes, agents and editors DO often skip that covering letter and go straight to the pages.

Mathew, it seems to me that your publishing experience was gained mostly in the arena of character licensing: is that right?

mathewferguson
10-12-2009, 10:44 AM
It's not about being modest v. not modest. It's about giving writers the information they need to make a decision about whether you're a good match for them. You've vaguely mentioned important-sounding responsibilities, but without any substance (company names, job titles) to support them (and only ever in defensive, grandiose response, rather than up front). As you say, there are many lousy agents out there muddying the waters. All agents should be clear about what experience they've had. Hopefully, in the future, you'll have sales to back you up. Those sales are all the experience you need, if you have them. But if you're relying on other experiences, just state what they are, without bluster. You've come across, to me at least, as sneering at us for not appreciating your background, without having first clarified what your background is.



There is a vast gulf between "silly game" and "holy position." My agent is skilled and works hard. Concerns are cropping up here because you dismiss the "working hard" part, and also dismiss the need to justify your claimed "skills" with specific experience.



Well, agents do. So writers, especially American writers, need to have a good one.


I have stated, without bluster, my experience: http://www.mathewferguson.com.au/about.html

I leave out of that page that I worked for an educational publisher also and have worked for various other companies.

My position on agents is, quite clearly, that it isn't the mysterious incredibly difficult job that it is made out to be. The agent job has such brilliant PR that many people have bought into the idea that it is so very hard and so very time-consuming. I do agree it requires specialised skills but it is a job just like any other. It is well within the capacity of the appropriately trained person. I cannot abide the myth-making that is wrapped around it and that is why I say on my website that I don't care very much about your query letter because I care about the story and not your letter introducing the story.

Is this really such an extreme position to take? There are blogs all over the place purporting to tell the truth about publishing - surely this has been covered before.

mathewferguson
10-12-2009, 10:56 AM
In America, a query letter is all that most agents see. They don't accept sample pages along with those queries, so it's wrong to say that they'll skip the query and go straight to the pages.

In the UK, sample pages are sent with a covering letter and yes, agents and editors DO often skip that covering letter and go straight to the pages.

Mathew, it seems to me that your publishing experience was gained mostly in the arena of character licensing: is that right?

Hi Jane -- my publishing experience started with educational publishing then moved to masses of licensed publishing with some original publishing thrown in. Then I moved to freelancing and worked all over the place as a writer/editor/project manager/proof-reader/copywriter/copyeditor and about every other job you can do with words. My experience isn't limited to character licensing at all. I do have a gigantic amount of children's publishing experience behind me and a particular love of this area. I've been a ghostwriter also and can't talk about where that chunk of money came from.

I've commissioned illustrators, worked on design and branding, created publishing programs and taken many books from idea to delivery.

I don't really intend for my posts here to be my resume and project list because honestly I don't think many people care that I project managed, wrote and edited million-dollar publishing programs. I did a lot of Disney work if that covers it.

I am very aware my opinions on agents runs counter to the established mythology but I simply cannot buy into the falsehood that working as an agent is just about the most difficult job in the world. It simply isn't true.

Terie
10-12-2009, 11:01 AM
... I simply cannot buy into the falsehood that working as an agent is just about the most difficult job in the world. It simply isn't true.

Good lord! Talk about a straw-man argument.

Old Hack
10-12-2009, 11:32 AM
My experience isn't limited to character licensing at all.

I didn't suggest it was--I asked if your experience was mostly in this arena. Thanks for clarifying.


I do have a gigantic amount of children's publishing experience behind me and a particular love of this area.

Are you therefore planning on representing children's authors? That would seem to be a good fit.


I've been a ghostwriter also and can't talk about where that chunk of money came from.

I've commissioned illustrators, worked on design and branding, created publishing programs and taken many books from idea to delivery.

So have I! I've done all those things, including ghostwriting and working with illustrators, but I wouldn't dream of setting up as an agent: I just don't have the required expertise, or the required contacts. Within her genres, my agent knows who is building a new list, who is looking for something specific, who works well with new authors and who builds careers. My concern is that without such knowledge you're not going to be able to do the best for your clients.

Unimportant
10-12-2009, 11:35 AM
Query letters travel with partials. They don't travel alone.

I can't count how many ways that is wrong.

The vast majority of US agents want a query letter -- nothing else. If they're interested, then they'll ask for a partial. The same goes for an awful lot of the big -- and sometimes small -- US presses.

I have lived both in the US and in Australasia. I can assure you that the industry is quite different in the two areas.

Old Hack
10-12-2009, 11:51 AM
Unimportant, I agree. It seems to me that Mathew is a little confused.

In the UK, writers usually submit a partial along with a covering letter, and perhaps a CV. I'm pretty sure that this is how things are done in Australia too.

However, in America, a writer's first contact with the publishing business is a query letter, which is sent all on its own. If the agent or editor likes the look of it, they'll ask to see more--a partial, or sometimes, a complete mss. So he's wrong when he asserts that agents and editors don't read query letters: in America they do, all the time, because they don't get partials along with those query letters.

priceless1
10-12-2009, 05:41 PM
What do you mean by "we've taken a dip into the ridiculous"?
It means that I believe you lack the necessary experience to make such sweeping statements about how easy an agent's job is. I'm not saying you don't have some lovely experience in publishing, but your experience doesn't qualify you for being an effective agent. You put yourself - and your authors - at a further disadvantage with your claims that establishing relationships is a waste of time.

You don't even understand how things work in the US, so how do you plan on querying US editors? Query letters are the first, and in most cases, the only thing we see. If you did little more than send me an entire manuscript with a letter that says "here ya go," I'd think you were daft because I need to see the pitch - the plot.

You're competing with agents who do know what they're doing and how to send a proper query, so you do your own clients a grave disservice by not learning the rudiments of the US process.


living in Australia doesn't provide the special case to explain away my claims about publishing and agents.
I'm afraid that it does because you appear to be unaware of how we work over here. I don't know of any successful American agent who has your attitude. Your beliefs are simply incompatible to the realities of American publishing.


Let me ask you this: what do you think of an agent who doesn't know what SEO is? I think they are old and out of touch. You?
Why would they? How does search engine optimization help them sell a client's manuscript to an editor? I know a few agents who used to do book publicity, but they certainly have no use for it in their current jobs.

My comments have been compared to the Emperor wearing no clothes, but may I suggest that since I work in the US and work very closely with some very top agents, that perhaps I have a clearer idea of how things work in over here?

That is why I suggested that things must work very differently in Australia because we simply don't operate in the manner that you claim is industry wide. You paint your agents up to be little more than bumbling idiots, and you do your credibility no good by claiming that you, and you alone, are the only one with the right answers, and everyone else is doing nothing more than shoring up a broken model.

Confidence is good if it's built on a solid foundation, like agent experience and solid sales. But you aren't there yet. Yes, you claim that you've made huge sales but you weren't an agent at the time. What were those books? I've found that humility and the willingness to listen and learn goes a long way toward building a successful business. Those who lack those elements are doomed to failure because they go no further than seeking their own counsel.

As I said before, come back in six months with your list of big sales. Only then will I happily eat my words and suggest that you have a winning combination. For now, it's just words.

SJWangsness
10-12-2009, 06:34 PM
If nothing else, this thread has been an interesting symposium.

priceless1
10-12-2009, 06:49 PM
In a case such as mine, where I want[U] a non-US publisher for one book, why is Mat poison oak? If he can get me to an Australian publisher with foreign contacts, what's the problem?
Let me ask you this; would it be better to ask a first year intern to perform heart surgery, or a seasoned thoracic surgeon with years of experience and many successful surgeries under his belt?

If you are looking for someone to do a great job for you, you should look for a successful, experienced agent who has a collection of solid sales. If this isn't a concern for you, especially after everything you've read here, then you're absolutely right; it's your neck.

Emily Winslow
10-12-2009, 06:53 PM
However, in America, a writer's first contact with the publishing business is a query letter, which is sent all on its own. If the agent or editor likes the look of it, they'll ask to see more--a partial, or sometimes, a complete mss. So he's wrong when he asserts that agents and editors don't read query letters: in America they do, all the time, because they don't get partials along with those query letters.

I agree with this in spirit, but want to add one small detail: in my (American) agent search, which was in 2007, the standard was to send a query letter + a few pages (3-5). So, yes, there was writing with every query (though not an official "partial" which is usually 3 chapters/50 pages or thereabouts). According to the agent blogs I read, the query is necessary to put those first pages into context. They're looking not just for quality of writing, but quality of story, and the story comes from the info in the query.

DeadlyAccurate
10-12-2009, 08:14 PM
But meanwhile, we as writers have to bear the scars of rejections for two paragraphs just describing a 100,000 word book.

Every time a potential bookstore customer reads the back copy of a book and sets it back on the shelf, the same thing happens. And every time someone reads that copy and decides to open it up and read the first few pages, you've passed the "query letter stage" with a potential book buyer. Write the query you want a reader to see and become entranced by.

Agents don't reject/accept based on a whim. That implies a lack of thought into the system. They look at the publishability (I don't care what Firefox says, it's a word, dammit!) of the work, market conditions, their editor contacts, and yes, whether they love the writing and the story. They might love the work but know it'll be a hard sell for them. Or they might think the market is saturated with that particular genre and know books of that type have to be exceptional instead of merely very good. That's not a whim; that's a business decision.

Saskatoonistan
10-12-2009, 08:27 PM
Agents don't reject/accept based on a whim. That implies a lack of thought into the system. They look at the publishability (I don't care what Firefox says, it's a word, dammit!) of the work, market conditions, their editor contacts, and yes, whether they love the writing and the story. They might love the work but know it'll be a hard sell for them. Or they might think the market is saturated with that particular genre and know books of that type have to be exceptional instead of merely very good. That's not a whim; that's a business decision.

I heartily agree. I was recently turned down by a very reputable agent not because there was anything wrong with my writing, but because she was already marketing a very similar book, so it was a business decision.

priceless1
10-12-2009, 08:35 PM
Getting a bit off track here, but if we operated on a whim, we'd all be out of business in no time. Excellent point, Deadly.

Eirin
10-12-2009, 10:29 PM
Surely you do not equate an agent's intern to a Medical Intern! And yet, unless it's a boutique agency, it's the agent's intern or assistant who gets to decide who gets a rejection and who gets sent on to the boss.

Who said anything about an agent's intern? Priceless was, as far as I can see, comparing a start-up/inexperienced agent to a first year medical intern. It simply means that if you want quality work (on your heart or for your book), you're best off seeking out a performer with valuable experience and an excellent track-record.

priceless1
10-12-2009, 10:37 PM
So okay, priceless1...your analogy is way off base!
Not at all. I used the analogy of the ill-qualified intern vs. experienced surgeon to compare the wisdom of using an inexperienced agent instead of experienced an agent.

And to be clear; I never said you were committing literary suicide. I was merely agreeing with you when you said:

I think Mat looks pretty good for what I'm looking for in an agent for my parody/satire. If I'm wrong, then it's my neck, n'est-ce pas?

Old Hack
10-12-2009, 10:50 PM
It's worth pointing out that an experienced agent can use interns to filter the slush-pile without risking missing a good submission or two because it's relatively easy to do that first run: it's easy, for example, to reject non-fiction if you only represent fiction, or to reject historical romance if you're looking for gritty realism. It's also easy to reject the submissions which are really badly written (which most of the slush-pile books are), or poorly-constructed.

So no, some literary agents don't read every submission that's sent to them: they do sometimes get someone to get rid of the books that they definitely wouldn't publish, in order to save themselves time. But every submission does get looked at, and if your book is good AND you send it to an appropriate agent, your submission will be read.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 02:42 AM
Summary of my position: quit the agent worship.

This is agent worship: "All the agents I know work as many horrible hours as I do; almost 24/7."

More agent worship: "You have to work very hard to establish relationships with editors, both large and small."

"As one who works with agents almost every day, I consider a number of them friends. We're way past trying to impress each other because we don't have the time or energy."

"My agent works long hours, six days a week, and is spoken of with hushed voices."

My agent is spoken of with hushed voices!
Almost 24/7!

This is the kind of BS I see written about agents quite frequently. No, your agent isn't spoken of with hushed voices. No, they are not some incredible superhuman. No, they do not work "almost 24/7". I would say this was hyperbole but I suspect these are literal beliefs.

To clarify, establishing relationships with editors is very necessary but it is no longer the way it was. These relationships are short term only. Sometimes when an editor moves to another publisher there is opportunity to re-establish connection there. The old style of publishing is gone. There are no more soirees and mixing of literary greats. There are no more agents who can command the publishing landscape. There are starving desperate companies doing everything they can to get an edge over their competition. This is why editors churn and publishers churn and the whole idea of a constant relationship is ludicrous.

Even if there is a relationship with an editor that guarantees work will be read within a week, the work itself must be excellent. The relationship means nothing if the work is bad.

Priceless1: So we had this conversation about SEO.
"Let me ask you this: what do you think of an agent who doesn't know what SEO is? I think they are old and out of touch. You?"

"Why would they? How does search engine optimization help them sell a client's manuscript to an editor? I know a few agents who used to do book publicity, but they certainly have no use for it in their current jobs."

How does search engine optimisation help them sell a client's manuscript to an editor? Boy oh boy. This is exactly the kind of blindness I've seen in those old agents.

Here is how SEO helps sell a manuscript:
Old way: Writer puts together amazing piece of work. Agent starts shopping it around. Publication or not.
New way: Writer puts together amazing piece of work. Agent helps writer build a website for writer. Writer starts putting up a page every three days to build a reading audience. Writer releases chapters on torrents, targetting keywords to draw more readers. Writer puts up pay gateway to buy rest of book OR continues to put book up for free. This activity (only a small sample of things to do) builds a reading audience and may also translate into money. Now agent starts shopping book around and it travels with "5000 downloads" attached to it. It travels with quotes from people who have read the book. It travels with the knowledge that it already has an established audience. It isn't some untested piece of work. This sells a manuscript.

Further to that, after the book is published, the writer maintains the site. The publisher may be making efforts (along with the agent) to secure foreign sales and the website serves as an excellent resource for those foreign publishers.

This is why SEO is important. And any agent who has no idea is sadly out of touch.

In the discussion of new agents vs established agents on another thread on this site, someone gave a wonderful answer as to how do you decide if you should submit your work to a new agent? The answer was that they will have a footprint in publishing already. Some searching should uncover evidence of their work in publishing. It is not necessary to do an apprenticeship under an established agent to work as an agent. Working in-house as an editor gives you all the skills you need!

I will close with the summary again: Don't worship agents.

priceless1
10-13-2009, 03:11 AM
This is agent worship: "All the agents I know work as many horrible hours as I do; almost 24/7."
Um, I don't worship agents, Mat. I work with them. Where do you see worship in a business arrangement? They have something to sell; I am in the market to buy. I'm confused by your choice of words.


To clarify, establishing relationships with editors is very necessary but it is no longer the way it was. These relationships are short term only.
Maybe that's how it is in Australia, but that isn't how is in the US. You are, quite simply, very mistaken.


Here is how SEO helps sell a manuscript:
Old way: Writer puts together amazing piece of work. Agent starts shopping it around. Publication or not.
New way: Writer puts together amazing piece of work. Agent helps writer build a website for writer. Writer starts putting up a page every three days to build a reading audience. Writer releases chapters on torrents, targetting keywords to draw more readers. Writer puts up pay gateway to buy rest of book OR continues to put book up for free. This activity (only a small sample of things to do) builds a reading audience and may also translate into money. Now agent starts shopping book around and it travels with "5000 downloads" attached to it. It travels with quotes from people who have read the book. It travels with the knowledge that it already has an established audience. It isn't some untested piece of work. This sells a manuscript.
Oh.
Dear.
God.
I'm speechless. Do you know how many times people have come up with this "brave new idea" only to be laughed off the map? No, no, nevermind...this has all gotten too silly. Mat, good luck to you. As I said before, if you're truly that good, we should see some sales in about six months - and I will happily stand on my desk and sing "I'm an Oscar Meyer Wiener" while standing on one foot.

I have serious doubts about your abilities to get the job done, and the more you talk about your "innovative" ideas, the more I ache for your clients.

Saskatoonistan
10-13-2009, 03:18 AM
Summary of my position: quit the agent worship.

Respectfully, seeing as how most/many of us aspire to be published by a large publishing house that won't look at you without an agent, I will happily worship at the alter of agenty goodness.

eqb
10-13-2009, 03:24 AM
I will close with the summary again: Don't worship agents.

Then it's okay if I don't worship you.

eqb
10-13-2009, 03:49 AM
Respectfully, seeing as how most/many of us aspire to be published by a large publishing house that won't look at you without an agent, I will happily worship at the alter of agenty goodness.

Naw, you don't worship your agent. You appreciate their skill, insight, advice, and hard work.

Eirin
10-13-2009, 03:49 AM
Writer starts putting up a page every three days to build a reading audience. Writer releases chapters on torrents, targetting keywords to draw more readers. Writer puts up pay gateway to buy rest of book OR continues to put book up for free. This activity (only a small sample of things to do) builds a reading audience and may also translate into money. Now agent starts shopping book around and it travels with "5000 downloads" attached to it. It travels with quotes from people who have read the book. It travels with the knowledge that it already has an established audience. It isn't some untested piece of work. This sells a manuscript.


Oh goody, it's a variation of the content-site idea. Again.

Mathew, people simply don't read, or go looking for exiting new stuff to read, in this way. You'll just be creating cyberslush and no one wants to read slush. At least not twice.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 03:53 AM
Um, I don't worship agents, Mat. I work with them. Where do you see worship in a business arrangement? They have something to sell; I am in the market to buy. I'm confused by your choice of words.


Maybe that's how it is in Australia, but that isn't how is in the US. You are, quite simply, very mistaken.


Oh.
Dear.
God.
I'm speechless. Do you know how many times people have come up with this "brave new idea" only to be laughed off the map? No, no, nevermind...this has all gotten too silly. Mat, good luck to you. As I said before, if you're truly that good, we should see some sales in about six months - and I will happily stand on my desk and sing "I'm an Oscar Meyer Wiener" while standing on one foot.

I have serious doubts about your abilities to get the job done, and the more you talk about your "innovative" ideas, the more I ache for your clients.

Priceless1 you said: "All the agents I know work as many horrible hours as I do; almost 24/7." This is agent worship. Are you seriously telling me you believe what all those agents have told you? Do you really truly believe they work "almost 24/7"?

You simply cannot believe that. They do not work 24/7 or anywhere near it. This is pure exaggeration and part of the supremely foolish agent worship cult. If you don't worship them then why would you say something that is clearly not true?

I'm sorry you think I'm mistaken but even in the US the churn in editors continues apace.

I'm not coming up with some "brave new idea". I'm not advocating self-publishing or eBook publishing but neither am I blind to where money is available.

I would fully expect a non-fiction book on ... fitness ... to have an accompanying website. I wouldn't even bother attempting to sell such a book without an established audience.

You are completely stuck in the old world where the idea of releasing a chapter sample online is some brave new idea that will utterly fail. Given that you have a website and a blog I can't understand how you are so dismissive of online activity.

And you are a member of IndieBound and also the Independent Book Publishers Association! How can you be ignorant of the possibilities the web offers for sales, promotion, marketing and selling manuscripts?

Another question for you: to promote a published books, would you make a YouTube book trailer? Or is that a "innovative" idea that makes you "ache"?

Marian Perera
10-13-2009, 03:59 AM
Writer starts putting up a page every three days to build a reading audience.

I've read a lot of books, but I can't ever recall coming across this sort of strategy. Could you give me any examples of writers who have done this (i.e. putting up a page every three days) and have successfully sold their books to commercial publishers?

Personally, I don't surf the web looking for original fiction, and I don't think I'd be interested in getting just a page every three days.


It travels with the knowledge that it already has an established audience.

But that established audience has already read the book, so are they likely to buy a copy? There's a lot of material which I'll read for free, but not if I have to fork out for it.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 04:06 AM
Hi Eirin - sorry, the quoting seems to continue to paste in a different post --

Oh goody, it's a variation of the content-site idea. Again.

Mathew, people simply don't read, or go looking for exiting new stuff to read, in this way. You'll just be creating cyberslush and no one wants to read slush. At least not twice.
*
I'll use an example from Australia: New MacDonald's Farm. It's a children's television show on here and it has an accompanying licensing programme. It started as a pretty terrible looking website. The creator hired some writers to write 1000 -1500 word stories based around the characters Henry the Horse, Percy the Pig, etc. Not the most innovative thing I've ever seen.

They used their website to start drawing traffic. Children were coming to the site and downloading colouring sheets and the like. They took their traffic figures and detailed proof of market to Beyond Entertainment who then transformed it into a television show. Once on television along came the publishing program and out came the books.

This idea is not new or unusual at all. There are quite a few people heading out into this space and working on building an online presence to increase the likelihood of publishing deals and the like.

Of course this is always negatively characterised as a variation of the content-site idea. Again.

On another children's property - look at The Wiggles. Started as a school project, cassettes being sold in small venues and off they went.

Emily the Strange - sticker, t-shirt, gift books, graphic novels, massive success.

Scary Girl - t-shirts, gift books, online game, publishing program.

Cory Doctorow - ebooks, blogging, print publication.

Bridget Jones's Diary: newspaper column transformed into novelisation.

Sex in the City: newspaper column, book, tv series, film.

The idea that it goes write book -> agent -> publishing deal or write book -> publishing deal -> agent is not the standard route.

I say that any writer who doesn't have a website for their material is doing themselves a great disservice.

eqb
10-13-2009, 04:08 AM
I've read a lot of books, but I can't ever recall coming across this sort of strategy. Could you give me any examples of writers who have done this (i.e. putting up a page every three days) and have successfully sold their books to commercial publishers?

Recently, I've seen posts from several authors who are soliciting donations for novels-in-progress. Once they reach a certain goal, they post the next chapter. Mostly these are authors with an established fan base.

James D. Macdonald
10-13-2009, 04:10 AM
Let me posit this: In a case such as mine, where I want a non-US publisher for one book, why is Mat poison oak?

A useful agent has sold books that you've heard of.

mscelina
10-13-2009, 04:10 AM
I would just like to opine that any agent who would go to a site full of writers who are looking for agents wouldn't dream of behaving in an aggressive or condescending fashion to his potential clients.

That's just good, old-fashioned business sense and regardless of all the bells and whistles of the modern age, it just wouldn't make sense. Not only would it raise serious red flags, but might also dissuade those writers from considering him when they look for representation.

*shrug* I could be wrong, of course. But I seriously doubt it.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 04:13 AM
I've read a lot of books, but I can't ever recall coming across this sort of strategy. Could you give me any examples of writers who have done this (i.e. putting up a page every three days) and have successfully sold their books to commercial publishers?

Personally, I don't surf the web looking for original fiction, and I don't think I'd be interested in getting just a page every three days.



But that established audience has already read the book, so are they likely to buy a copy? There's a lot of material which I'll read for free, but not if I have to fork out for it.

Hi - Max Barry has done it recently http://www.maxbarry.com/ with Machine Man http://www.maxbarry.com/machineman/

Here is his post announcing the deal: http://www.maxbarry.com/2009/08/12/news.html

I'm sure of course that this will bring up the howl of "But he was already a published author!". Yes, he is a published author. No, it doesn't make a difference. It is about the audience and the proof of audience.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 04:15 AM
Then it's okay if I don't worship you.

Absolutely!

A few strewn rose petals wouldn't go astray though ... :-)

Marian Perera
10-13-2009, 04:21 AM
Recently, I've seen posts from several authors who are soliciting donations for novels-in-progress. Once they reach a certain goal, they post the next chapter. Mostly these are authors with an established fan base.

Oh yes, Lawrence Watt-Evans did that - but he's Lawrence Watt-Evans. And I don't recall him posting a page every three days. As a reader, that wouldn't work for me.

James D. Macdonald
10-13-2009, 04:23 AM
Summary of my position: quit the agent worship.

Mat, you've already badly misused the term "special pleading." Please look up and understand the term "straw man."

To help you out, here are a couple of blog posts you should read. Please note the dates; these are not new.

On the Getting of Agents (http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/004772.html)

Slushkiller (http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/004641.html)

Marian Perera
10-13-2009, 04:24 AM
I'm sure of course that this will bring up the howl of "But he was already a published author!".

I think what you characterize as a "howl" is a reasonable objection, so we probably don't have any common ground to continue this. Thanks for your time.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 04:25 AM
I would just like to opine that any agent who would go to a site full of writers who are looking for agents wouldn't dream of behaving in an aggressive or condescending fashion to his potential clients.

That's just good, old-fashioned business sense and regardless of all the bells and whistles of the modern age, it just wouldn't make sense. Not only would it raise serious red flags, but might also dissuade those writers from considering him when they look for representation.

*shrug* I could be wrong, of course. But I seriously doubt it.

I like people to have the courage to voice their convictions ...

I don't mind a bit of online fire from time to time. You might notice that I always use my own name when I'm online - that's because I stand by what I say. Don't worship agents. No, they don't work 24/7. No, your query letter isn't really important. Yes, having a website is a great idea.

I'm very well aware that this position brings out those who are dedicated to defending the mythology. After all, what agent would admit that there are easy sales? It was a call, a contract and a chunk of cash and all for hardly any effort. We know those deals exist ... but no one will talk about them.

eqb
10-13-2009, 04:31 AM
Oh yes, Lawrence Watt-Evans did that - but he's Lawrence Watt-Evans. And I don't recall him posting a page every three days. As a reader, that wouldn't work for me.

Right. He posted a first draft of each chapter. He did end up selling the novel to a small press. Anyone who contributed got a free copy, iirc. But as you said, he's LWE. He has a sizable fan base.

Several others are doing that/have done that recently to raise cash. All of them have fans and they also had numerous friends to help spread the word online.

Unknown writers trying this would not do well, imo.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 04:39 AM
Mat, you've already badly misused the term "special pleading." Please look up and understand the term "straw man."

To help you out, here are a couple of blog posts you should read. Please note the dates; these are not new.

On the Getting of Agents (http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/004772.html)

Slushkiller (http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/004641.html)

Hi James - I do understand the term "straw man". When someone writes "agents work almost 24/7" and then I write "agents do not work superhuman hours" I am not constructing a straw man. I am giving an accurate representation of their position. If someone wrote "agents work long hours" and I wrote "agents do not work 24/7!" then yes, I would be constructing a straw man and the characterisation is justified.

The special pleading usage was correct. Being in Australia was used as the special case to refute what I claimed.

The "On the Getting of Agents" is a great post. I love the section on Gormless agents. I clearly don't agree on the section about real agents requiring the apprenticeship process. As an in-house editor with a very broad job description I did everything an agent does, including writing contracts.

The Australian Literary Agents' Association has a similar trade-barrier kind of clause in their membership section. You can't join unless you've been an agent for three years or have negotiated 10 contracts or have earned $250K in commission in a two-year period. Out in the world they push hard on "don't work with anyone who isn't listed as a member of our site" angle. This ends up in a bit of a catch-22 situation: can't join until I've made deals, can't make deals because that association warns off all potential clients from anyone who has opened a new business ...

It was a great move from the agencies who set up the association: in one move they put themselves in the trusted group and put anyone else in the not-to-be-trusted group.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 04:42 AM
Oh yes, Lawrence Watt-Evans did that - but he's Lawrence Watt-Evans. And I don't recall him posting a page every three days. As a reader, that wouldn't work for me.

Hi - check out what Cory Doctorow has to say about this: http://www.locusmag.com/Perspectives/2009/09/cory-doctorow-special-pleading.html

The sales are not because the author is an established name. :-)

Marian Perera
10-13-2009, 04:49 AM
But as you said, he's LWE. He has a sizable fan base... Unknown writers trying this would not do well, imo.

Exactly. Established writers are likely to do better, sales-wise, than unknown writers for that reason.

Marva
10-13-2009, 04:52 AM
Matt: I'd be glad to sign with an Australian agent. I've already been "this close" to an agent who resides in Australia, but she doesn't have the time to work with me on needed changes. It would be nice to know what she thinks needs to be changed, but she was not moved to inform me with details.

In any case, would you take a US author to work through the Aussie publication system? I'm game. Let us know, mate! A couple of my fav authors are Aussie. Hal Spacejock is a kick.

Eirin
10-13-2009, 04:55 AM
How will you get people (editors and/or the reading public) to notice another page of text on the internet? It's not as if there's a paucity as it is. How will you create visibility?
How will you even entice editors to go looking in the first place?

I'm an avid reader and I'm perfectly willing to spend quite a bit of money on books. I'm far from alone in this, nor do I think my book-buying pattern is unique. I shop online if I'm acquainted with the author or have heard good things about a specific book, in B&M if I want to browse. The keyword here is selection.
I do find and enjoy free stuff on the net, but I don't have the time to scour cyberspace for good reading material, and I certainly can't be bothered to monitor torrent sites for random uploads from hopeful new authors. Bookstores function as my gatekeepers.

Editors in general don't appear to be inclined to spend their days online looking for new writers either. They, too, have gatekeepers.

eqb
10-13-2009, 05:00 AM
Hi - check out what Cory Doctorow has to say about this: http://www.locusmag.com/Perspectives/2009/09/cory-doctorow-special-pleading.html

The sales are not because the author is an established name. :-)

Yes, I've read that article.

There's a difference between the route Cory took and what you described, however. Cory first sold the novel to a commercial publisher, then released it electronically. Baen has an entire program doing just that with their Free Library. Your post seemed to imply a different approach--releasing the book in increments online, *then* approaching a commercial publisher.

How do you propose to get the same attention for new writers, ones who don't have the same fan base or online presence?

mscelina
10-13-2009, 05:07 AM
It all boils down to this: why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? That's why e-published authors have to be so vigilant with their work. Sites that are selling pirated copies of published works are cutting into their sales. Why would incrementally e-publishing sections of a book be any different?

There's a difference between using excerpts as hooks for your published work and tossing the whole thing out onto the internet for free and unmonitored consumption.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 05:09 AM
Matt: I'd be glad to sign with an Australian agent. I've already been "this close" to an agent who resides in Australia, but she doesn't have the time to work with me on needed changes. It would be nice to know what she thinks needs to be changed, but she was not moved to inform me with details.

In any case, would you take a US author to work through the Aussie publication system? I'm game. Let us know, mate! A couple of my fav authors are Aussie. Hal Spacejock is a kick.

A good story that I think is publishable is the only entry ticket I need to see!

It is a little strange to work with people you never see face-to-face. I once worked with an illustrator for four months before finally meeting her. We were both a little ... that's what you look like? :-)

Eirin
10-13-2009, 05:09 AM
Mathew, in every example you've provided there's an inbuilt hook. Either a television show, a project for schoolchildren (now there's a captive audience), or an established author's fanbase and presence. In other words - visibility. You bet that matters.
I just wish you wouldn't bet your clients' work on it.

Cyia
10-13-2009, 05:10 AM
Your post seemed to imply a different approach--releasing the book in increments online, *then* approaching a commercial publisher.


There was a vanity publisher that had this approach on here for a while (the Zooty and Flapper guy, Dominic or Dimitri... something like that) Basically his brainstorm was that he'd post people's stuff for free on his site and once it garnered several thousand reads, he'd put together a submission to send to publishers telling them he had proof the book was good, popular, etc. He never took into account that by that point, the book's core audience had been burned through for no profit to anyone except him (it cost to post to his site).

Posting like that counts as publication to certain houses, and if the story caches in Google or another engine, then it's available for free for an extended period of time even if the author pulls it from the internet.

eqb
10-13-2009, 05:16 AM
There's a difference between using excerpts as hooks for your published work and tossing the whole thing out onto the internet for free and unmonitored consumption.

Cory did release his entire book for free. And Baen's Free Library does the same thing for selected titles. And what they found is that many readers will read the e-version then buy the printed version. Or they might read one free book in a series, then buy the rest if they like it.

But first those books are professionally edited and produced. And they are *marketed* by the publisher. Sure the author does promotion, too, but they aren't working alone, in advance of even selling the book.

priceless1
10-13-2009, 05:20 AM
Mat, is this you (http://raw.channelfrederator.com/profile/MathewFerguson)?

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 05:22 AM
How will you get people (editors and/or the reading public) to notice another page of text on the internet? It's not as if there's a paucity as it is. How will you create visibility?
How will you even entice editors to go looking in the first place?

I'm an avid reader and I'm perfectly willing to spend quite a bit of money on books. I'm far from alone in this, nor do I think my book-buying pattern is unique. I shop online if I'm acquainted with the author or have heard good things about a specific book, in B&M if I want to browse. The keyword here is selection.
I do find and enjoy free stuff on the net, but I don't have the time to scour cyberspace for good reading material, and I certainly can't be bothered to monitor torrent sites for random uploads from hopeful new authors. Bookstores function as my gatekeepers.

Editors in general don't appear to be inclined to spend their days online looking for new writers either. They, too, have gatekeepers.


Hi Eirin -- I don't think this is the only route to publication by the way. It's just one of the routes and not the most important one.

Editors are not the first target audience. While there are editors out searching for the cool new thing, there are plenty who don't search at all and rely on the agent filtering mechanism.

The point of the website is to find and build the audience. Say you are writing a non-fiction book on US car manufacturing. As the book develops, it would be a great idea to start posting online sections of the book. This posting will tell you potentially how many people there are around who are interested in this topic. If you're only getting 100 visitors a day you can conclude it is a low number.

If you are writing fiction then the point of the website is to build and attract an audience also. There are many well-established strategies to do this such as posting links to your site on forums, releasing the book on a torrent, posting chapters on critique sites, running a twitter account and writing an interesting blog. The sum result of this is so you or an agent can say "This website received 10,000 hits per day, has had four thousands comments such as x, y, z, and the eBook has been downloaded 2000 times.", for example.

If an editor has two books of equal quality and one comes with "This has 5000 readers who receive a page every three days" and the other comes with "I wrote this, I'm pretty sure there is a market for it", which will be published?

I use bookshops as gatekeepers too. I do read some stuff online but as the Kindle has only just been released here in Australia I haven't moved over to reading entire books online. I do however search out around the world for the cool new thing. I used to do it when I was an in-house editor to and I would write to people asking if they had anything to submit to us.

Online activity can't make an average book publishable but it can give a publishable book an edge over another publishable book.

Eirin
10-13-2009, 05:32 AM
Mathew, I'm confused about what you intend.

Do you want to release excerpts of your clients' work online in order to catch the interest of editors at commercial houses, or do you propose to publish books online in pay-to-view increments?

Someone could easily do either without your assistance. What would your part be?

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 05:33 AM
Mathew, in every example you've provided there's an inbuilt hook. Either a television show, a project for schoolchildren (now there's a captive audience), or an established author's fanbase and presence. In other words - visibility. You bet that matters.
I just wish you wouldn't bet your clients' work on it.

Hi Eirin -- I don't agree that there was an inbuilt hook for each of those examples. Sex in the City could have stayed a newspaper column and went nowhere. Max Tucker's website could have stayed as a website and not been made into a book.

The quality of the material is paramount. Good quality can start from anything and go to anything. A sticker that becomes a t-shirt that becomes a gift book that becomes a graphic novel doesn't get there because there was an inbuilt hook. It gets there because the quality is there from the start.

I'm certainly not betting my clients' work on the web and I'm not so foolish to think that a website is all one needs. For example, I represent two illustrators and I love their work. They are damn good illustrators and I fully believe in their styles, their ethos, everything about them. I've encouraged both of them to build websites and engage in activities that will raise their profile.

One illustrator has amazing character designs. My strategy with her is to see if I can license some of those designs to a local person who will make the products and start selling them. I fully expect the initial money to be low but the product samples and a sales record are the desired outcome. Now I don't really care if that character starts on a t-shirt, a sticker, a badge, a notebook, a sock or a bar of soap. So long as it starts somewhere decent, establishes a beginning and can then grow out to something else.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 05:38 AM
It all boils down to this: why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? That's why e-published authors have to be so vigilant with their work. Sites that are selling pirated copies of published works are cutting into their sales. Why would incrementally e-publishing sections of a book be any different?

There's a difference between using excerpts as hooks for your published work and tossing the whole thing out onto the internet for free and unmonitored consumption.

This is the standard debate around eBooks. Don't get me wrong - I'm not one of those "eBooks are the way to go!" agents. The market isn't there yet, it isn't commercialised successfully and the money still is mostly in paper publishing.

However, putting out an eBook isn't an unmonitored event. Websites show downloads, hits, where people are coming from and where they go.

I'm on the side of "Theft of your work online isn't the problem. Anonymity is."

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 05:40 AM
There was a vanity publisher that had this approach on here for a while (the Zooty and Flapper guy, Dominic or Dimitri... something like that) Basically his brainstorm was that he'd post people's stuff for free on his site and once it garnered several thousand reads, he'd put together a submission to send to publishers telling them he had proof the book was good, popular, etc. He never took into account that by that point, the book's core audience had been burned through for no profit to anyone except him (it cost to post to his site).

Posting like that counts as publication to certain houses, and if the story caches in Google or another engine, then it's available for free for an extended period of time even if the author pulls it from the internet.

I've heard that idea also. If a book only has an audience of three thousand people then you might have already found them and satisfied their need for what you are selling. This is particularly true with non-fiction topics.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 05:57 AM
Mathew, I'm confused about what you intend.

Do you want to release excerpts of your clients' work online in order to catch the interest of editors at commercial houses, or do you propose to publish books online in pay-to-view increments?

Someone could easily do either without your assistance. What would your part be?

Hi Eirin - this isn't what I intend for my agency. It is simply one of the small side-tracks that started because I said any agent who doesn't know what SEO is should hang up their spurs.

I'll give you an example of something I might do.
About two months ago I rejected a very well-written story. That writer got the longest rejection letter I've ever written. It was almost there in many many ways. I invited him to submit his next work and just recently he has. I haven't read it yet but if it lands in the same area as the first submission then I'm very likely to make an offer of representation for this writer.

Have you ever read the unedited version of Eragon? You can see there is great stuff there but it does need a serious edit. This writer is like that. I can see the structure.

If this writer was happy for me to represent him then the first thing that would happen is they would get a fully marked-up serious red ink copy of their manuscript sent back. I would work with this writer to bring the book up to publishable standard.

Once the manuscript is at publishable standard then starts the multi-prong approach. Is it good enough to get immediate attention? Do his competition have websites?
For his genre there exists a thriving online community. They would be one of my first targets. I would be encouraging him to join these communities and trickling out pages, all with links back to a website. I would probably also release a sample via torrents for download.
In this process, I would also start slowly submitting it to publishers and seeing what they have to say. If I received "It's awesome but we're not sure how big the market for it would be" then I would put a lot of effort into growing the online presence of the work. If the website was flooding with traffic then I might suggest a pay gateway to get the rest of the book (this would require very high traffic numbers though).

The point of this is to build an audience and give me something to say other than talking about the content of the book. I want to be able to tell an editor that the first three chapters have been downloaded 5000 times and here are a page of comments from readers. Pre-selection and pre-approval works on editors and sales and marketing quite well.

A savvy writer who knows a little about Wordpress and can research SEO can do the web side of it by themselves. They don't need an agent for that at all. And if they started to make a bit of money from the site or had big traffic numbers then they would find agents and publishers approaching them. If they were making enough money from their website and online releases then they may turn down paper publishing entirely.

So that's just one example of something that may happen. An agent who scoffs at a website is living in the past I think.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 06:04 AM
Mat, is this you (http://raw.channelfrederator.com/profile/MathewFerguson)?

Yes, that is me at Channel Frederator. Thanks for reminding me of this - I've recently taken www.mannamanna.com.au offline for reworking and so this profile website links nowhere.

priceless1
10-13-2009, 06:37 AM
Oh...my. You're frightfully young. Now this all makes a lot more sense.

Eirin
10-13-2009, 06:45 AM
What you are describing - ways to establish internet presence and visibility - is more or less what newly published authors all over are already doing, with varying success. Those authors at least have a pre-selected product to base it on.

That's not the point, though.

What I'm seeing is that you are trying to substitute internet handwaving for industry connections, and I strongly suspect that your claim that those connections don't matter springs from the fact that you don't have them. I believe that, at best, you're wasting your clients' time; at worst you're fucking up their manuscripts' submission history, reducing the pool of potential publishers.

Let's hope I'm wrong.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 07:03 AM
Oh...my. You're frightfully young. Now this all makes a lot more sense.

I'm 30. My birthday is April 11.

Thanks for the compliment though.

So it's not my country and it's not my age. Anything else you would like to pull up?

I've been working in publishing since 2003. Is SIX years enough?

I didn't come hastily to my opinions. They were built up over years and through many projects and experiences. They are evidence-based. This is why I can say that agents don't work "24/7" or anything near it.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 07:32 AM
What you are describing - ways to establish internet presence and visibility - is more or less what newly published authors all over are already doing, with varying success. Those authors at least have a pre-selected product to base it on.

That's not the point, though.

What I'm seeing is that you are trying to substitute internet handwaving for industry connections, and I strongly suspect that your claim that those connections don't matter springs from the fact that you don't have them. I believe that, at best, you're wasting your clients' time; at worst you're fucking up their manuscripts' submission history, reducing the pool of potential publishers.

Let's hope I'm wrong.

Wow, what a negative response.

No, I am not trying to substitute internet handwaving for industry connections. I was simply talking through a tiny segment of what an agent should know about, care about and be willing to dive into. An agent who doesn't know the difference between Joomla and Wordpress ... is no agent.

As for the claim that "connections don't matter" - I'm sure you'll find this is a misrepresentation of my position. Perhaps you should read through the posts.

What I claim is that the publishing industry as described (agents and editors are buddies and having these close connections is what makes one a good agent and having these close connections gets a manuscript to the top of the pile, agents work superhuman hours) does not match reality (editors churn, publishers churn, having long-term relationships isn't as advantageous as agents claim, agents don't work as hard as the myth goes, there are more ways to publication than direct to book publishers, etc).

I don't really think "stop worshipping agents" is an extreme position to take.

I do actually have relationships with editors in publishing houses around Australia and in other countries but I don't count too much on them. As a freelancer I've seen the churn at work. My contact at Penguin ... churn. Well, there goes some freelance work. Call up the new editor - hey, I worked for your predecessor, want to hire me? Then it either heads to yes, business as usual or no, new broom sweeps clean.

Contact at another publisher in Melbourne - emails, great relationship ... churn. Now they work at a newspaper and that connection is worthless.

The point I'm making, and the one that seems to get some people very upset, is that it isn't very hard to make a phone call and it isn't that hard to get people to talk to you. I look at all editors with a two year time limit on their heads. If they've been in a job for a year then I expect them to be gone a year later.

This is simply the reality of the publishing industry. Look at any industry newsletter - people are transferring around the place or dropping out, new people are coming in.

James D. Macdonald
10-13-2009, 07:42 AM
The special pleading usage was correct. Being in Australia was used as the special case to refute what I claimed.


No, Mat. Your usage is incorrect.


FAUST: Come, I think hell's a fable.

MEPHISTOPHELES: Ay, think so still, till experience change thy mind.


Or, a bit more modern:



BLACKADDER: No need to panic, somebody in the crew will know how to steer us to France.

CAPTAIN REDBEARD RUM: The crew, my lord?

BLACKADDER: Yes, the crew.

RUM: What crew?

BLACKADDER: I was under the impression that it is common maritime practice for a ship to have a crew.

RUM: Opinion is divided on the subject.

BLACKADDER: Really?

RUM: Yes. All the other sea captains say it is, I say it isn't.

BLACKADDER: Oh, God. Mad as a brush.


You would have us believe that both Mephistopheles and Blackadder are using special pleading. They aren't.

Special pleading, among other things, requires that the claimed circumstances be irrelevant. Further, for your claim to be true, someone has to have claimed that being in Australia is the special case to refute what you claim.

The actual claim is that maybe things work like that in Australia but they sure as fudge don't work like that here. The people who are telling you those things are doing so out of a spirit of helpfulness. Don't turn down the gift.

I do look forward to seeing how you fare over the next year. Most agents who make sales start doing so in their first six months.

priceless1
10-13-2009, 08:02 AM
So it's not my country and it's not my age.
Actually, it is.

I didn't come hastily to my opinions. They were built up over years and through many projects and experiences. They are evidence-based. This is why I can say that agents don't work "24/7" or anything near it.
"Evidence-based" my rusty red pen. You are woefully under-schooled as to how the industry works outside your tiny sphere. Until you have worked in other countries and rubbed elbows with real agents who make real sales, your opinions are akin to howling at the moon. Credibility? No, I don't think so.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 08:20 AM
No, Mat. Your usage is incorrect.

FAUST: Come, I think hell's a fable.

MEPHISTOPHELES: Ay, think so still, till experience change thy mind.
Or, a bit more modern:


BLACKADDER: No need to panic, somebody in the crew will know how to steer us to France.

CAPTAIN REDBEARD RUM: The crew, my lord?

BLACKADDER: Yes, the crew.

RUM: What crew?

BLACKADDER: I was under the impression that it is common maritime practice for a ship to have a crew.

RUM: Opinion is divided on the subject.

BLACKADDER: Really?

RUM: Yes. All the other sea captains say it is, I say it isn't.

BLACKADDER: Oh, God. Mad as a brush.
You would have us believe that both Mephistopheles and Blackadder are using special pleading. They aren't.

Special pleading, among other things, requires that the claimed circumstances be irrelevant. Further, for your claim to be true, someone has to have claimed that being in Australia is the special case to refute what you claim.

The actual claim is that maybe things work like that in Australia but they sure as fudge don't work like that here. The people who are telling you those things are doing so out of a spirit of helpfulness. Don't turn down the gift.

I do look forward to seeing how you fare over the next year. Most agents who make sales start doing so in their first six months.

Bonus points for Blackadder! A brilliant program.

I'm looking forward to seeing how I go over the next six months too. I got a freelance gig for one of my illustrators last week but it was a small job so I'm not counting it yet.

Regarding special pleading - someone did claim that me being from Australia was the reason for my claims regarding publishing and agent work. Australia was the special case, the irrelevant circumstance.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 08:34 AM
Actually, it is.

"Evidence-based" my rusty red pen. You are woefully under-schooled as to how the industry works outside your tiny sphere. Until you have worked in other countries and rubbed elbows with real agents who make real sales, your opinions are akin to howling at the moon. Credibility? No, I don't think so.

Have you ever taken the time to look into logical fallacies? You pulled out one a moment ago - Ad Hominem, regarding my perceived age. You've made some ridiculous statements, particularly about agents working "almost 24/7" and when I refute that you decide to attack my perceived age rather than my argument.

Why not consider the possibility that agents don't actually work all the hours they claim to? Is there not the possibility that people who work on commission derive benefit from the claim they work incredibly hard?

Is there not the slightest sliver of a chance that agents use PR about their own job to help justify its existence? Can you even admit that?

I am not "woefully under-schooled" and nor have I worked in a tiny sphere. You appear so committed to a mythology regarding publishing and agent work that you are now lashing out with insults at me because I disagree with you.

I do not accept the terms you set down for qualification to be a real agent. Have you published work in Australia? Would it be fair to say you are not a real publisher if you haven't? And if you have, then pick another country. Oh, you haven't published in Norway? Then you can't possibly be a real publisher. Such a position is stupid.

Your laundry list of qualifications to be an agent is ridiculous. I don't accept that one needs to work as an intern for an established agent. I contend that experience in the publishing industry, depending on its depth, is enough.

I did not step into agent work as a lark or just for the hell of it. I have years of experience in publishing but apparently it's not quite enough for you. I got an illustrator a job last week - is that enough or do you want to start setting dollar amounts on the qualification too?

Emily Winslow
10-13-2009, 11:26 AM
I don't mind a bit of online fire from time to time. You might notice that I always use my own name when I'm online - that's because I stand by what I say. Don't worship agents. No, they don't work 24/7. No, your query letter isn't really important. Yes, having a website is a great idea.

I'm very well aware that this position brings out those who are dedicated to defending the mythology. After all, what agent would admit that there are easy sales? It was a call, a contract and a chunk of cash and all for hardly any effort. We know those deals exist ... but no one will talk about them.

Mat, I think this could have been an interesting discussion, but the aggression in your answers disheartens me. I don't "worship" my agent, any more than I worship any other professional. But I respect them. You are taking any attitude above disdain as "worship," and that ticks me off. Yes, the "24/7" thing is hyperbole (and it's not something I personally said, so please don't throw it back at me). But most American agents do work many evenings and weekends to get their query/partial/full reading done, which is all that's meant by it.

My sale wasn't "easy", and the negotiations over my contract weren't "easy." I'm grateful for the part my agent played in them, and that isn't worship. Oh, and my query letter was important to getting her as my agent. That is a fact of my experience. I'm not "defending a mythology," I'm just respecting a professional with skills, experience and talent.

You may not mind "online fire" but I feel like I'm being yelled at. It is really unpleasant. And your insults ("agent worship", "defending the mythology") are distracting from what could be an interesting discussion, about methods of getting noticed.

I got my sale the old-fashioned way, and I'm skeptical of web success for unknown, unpublished novelists, but I would have liked to talk about it. Except you keep yelling at anyone who respects and appreciates their agent.

"Stop worshipping agents" is not an extreme position. What's extreme is the accusation that worshiping agents is what we're doing.

flyingtart
10-13-2009, 12:32 PM
Oh...my. You're frightfully young. Now this all makes a lot more sense.
Now just a doggone minute. Now you're saying that as well as Mat being ruled out as an agent because he's Australian, and hasn't been an assistant in an agency that he's too young??? What a bigoted midset we're uncovering here.

Are you aware how young some agents are these days? Take a look at some of the most established agencies and you will find agents a lot younger than Mat, I promise you. While I prefer my agent to be able to dress him/herself and not need pushed round the park on weekends I'm not too fussed about age, and you shouldn't be either.

As Mat has eloquently said, it's the writing that matters. All the rest is BS.

Old Hack
10-13-2009, 12:40 PM
I'm certainly not betting my clients' work on the web and I'm not so foolish to think that a website is all one needs. For example, I represent two illustrators and I love their work. They are damn good illustrators and I fully believe in their styles, their ethos, everything about them. I've encouraged both of them to build websites and engage in activities that will raise their profile.

One illustrator has amazing character designs. My strategy with her is to see if I can license some of those designs to a local person who will make the products and start selling them. I fully expect the initial money to be low but the product samples and a sales record are the desired outcome. Now I don't really care if that character starts on a t-shirt, a sticker, a badge, a notebook, a sock or a bar of soap. So long as it starts somewhere decent, establishes a beginning and can then grow out to something else.

So you're representing illustrators as well as authors, and focusing on licensing with them? And according to the link that Lynn posted, your publishing experience is pretty much all on the licensing side, and you don't seem to have worked in standalone books at all. This doesn't sound like a good background for a literary agent from where I'm standing.

I'm not suggesting that licensing is an entirely useless way forward--for some writers it's a very useful route to consider--but it's not appropriate for a lot of writers because their work just isn't suitable. For (a very bad) example, literary novels aren't going to do well if they're made into cartoons. Licensing is a big deal, and very lucrative: but it's a completely different business to literary agenting.


I'll use an example from Australia: New MacDonald's Farm. It's a children's television show on here and it has an accompanying licensing programme. It started as a pretty terrible looking website. The creator hired some writers to write 1000 -1500 word stories based around the characters Henry the Horse, Percy the Pig, etc. Not the most innovative thing I've ever seen.

They used their website to start drawing traffic. Children were coming to the site and downloading colouring sheets and the like. They took their traffic figures and detailed proof of market to Beyond Entertainment who then transformed it into a television show. Once on television along came the publishing program and out came the books.

While I don't know anything about this TV show, I'm sure you're right about how it became successful, just as I'm sure you're right about the other examples you provided (which I'll not quote here, for brevity). The thing is they're not typical of how most books come to a publisher's attention: they're exceptions, and so shouldn't be used to prove the rule. And if it's how you're planning on getting your clients' books published, I do hope you're taking care to only accept books which would suit these methods of promotion: otherwise you'll be fouling the pitch for the writers concerned, which would be a horrible thing for you to do to them.

Mat, I think your intentions are good; I think that you are positive, and have an innovative approach which is worthy of some attention. I just don't think you have enough experience to really know what you're doing; I think your attitude towards the publishing business in general, and towards agents in particular, is worrying; and like Emily and others here, I'm concerned by your aggression and easy dismissal of some of the advice you've been given here, and the questions you've been asked.

I suspect that you'll come back with a dismissal of all I've written here: fair enough. You evidently believe in yourself, and your ability to do the job that you've set out to do. So I'll direct you to the research paper I linked to in this blog post of mine, Unskilled and Unaware, (http://howpublishingreallyworks.blogspot.com/2008/08/you-have-to-be-good-to-know-that-youre.html)which discusses how it's difficult for people to realise how bad they are at something until they've developed a reasonable degree of expertise in the area. Please: read the research paper and take some time to consider it. I'm worried for the clients you're taking on, and for the future of their work.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 12:42 PM
Mat, I think this could have been an interesting discussion, but the aggression in your answers disheartens me. I don't "worship" my agent, any more than I worship any other professional. But I respect them. You are taking any attitude above disdain as "worship," and that ticks me off. Yes, the "24/7" thing is hyperbole (and it's not something I personally said, so please don't throw it back at me). But most American agents do work many evenings and weekends to get their query/partial/full reading done, which is all that's meant by it.

My sale wasn't "easy", and the negotiations over my contract weren't "easy." I'm grateful for the part my agent played in them, and that isn't worship. Oh, and my query letter was important to getting her as my agent. That is a fact of my experience. I'm not "defending a mythology," I'm just respecting a professional with skills, experience and talent.

You may not mind "online fire" but I feel like I'm being yelled at. It is really unpleasant. And your insults ("agent worship", "defending the mythology") are distracting from what could be an interesting discussion, about methods of getting noticed.

I got my sale the old-fashioned way, and I'm skeptical of web success for unknown, unpublished novelists, but I would have liked to talk about it. Except you keep yelling at anyone who respects and appreciates their agent.

"Stop worshipping agents" is not an extreme position. What's extreme is the accusation that worshiping agents is what we're doing.

Hi Emily.

It's great that you have a good agent and you respect them. That is a good position to be in and a good attitude to have.

My response wasn't directed at you. I despise agent worship on principle. It doesn't mean I think anyone who says something positive about agents is automatically engaging in it. I do sincerely believe that agent worship is a real condition though and I've seen plenty of examples of it.

There are people (priceless1 for example) who will say things like agents work "almost 24/7" and it isn't hyperbole. They really believe it and they spread it around. I don't agree that priceless1 meant to say that agents work evenings and weekends to get their reading done. Wouldn't she have said so by now? If her position needs clarification, she should do so.

It's 7:20pm in Australia right now and I'll be reading and replying to submissions until about 10pm. But I don't work more than about eight to ten hours a day and I would never pretend otherwise.

The mythology I am referring to is the collection of statements people make and continue to make about publishing and agents. Why these myths are so persistent is because they have bits of truth woven through them. Of course there are difficult negotiations. Of course there are calls and emails and meetings and talking budgets and all kinds of difficult work. Of course there are times when an agent is working massive hours to get things done. But it isn't the way people like priceless1 tell it.

There is a PR element to agent work. Talking up sales online and in trade newsletters. Pretending there is a deep and secret connection to editors and publishers. Telling a client how difficult the job is in case they ever start to think that 15% isn't justified. To acknowledge and talk about this PR element is forbidden, apparently.

Mine is quite a simple position: agent work is not nearly as difficult and time-consuming as some people (agents included) make it out to be.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 01:00 PM
So you're representing illustrators as well as authors, and focusing on licensing with them? And according to the link that Lynn posted, your publishing experience is pretty much all on the licensing side, and you don't seem to have worked in standalone books at all. This doesn't sound like a good background for a literary agent from where I'm standing.

I'm not suggesting that licensing is an entirely useless way forward--for some writers it's a very useful route to consider--but it's not appropriate for a lot of writers because their work just isn't suitable. For (a very bad) example, literary novels aren't going to do well if they're made into cartoons. Licensing is a big deal, and very lucrative: but it's a completely different business to literary agenting.



While I don't know anything about this TV show, I'm sure you're right about how it became successful, just as I'm sure you're right about the other examples you provided (which I'll not quote here, for brevity). The thing is they're not typical of how most books come to a publisher's attention: they're exceptions, and so shouldn't be used to prove the rule. And if it's how you're planning on getting your clients' books published, I do hope you're taking care to only accept books which would suit these methods of promotion: otherwise you'll be fouling the pitch for the writers concerned, which would be a horrible thing for you to do to them.

Mat, I think your intentions are good; I think that you are positive, and have an innovative approach which is worthy of some attention. I just don't think you have enough experience to really know what you're doing; I think your attitude towards the publishing business in general, and towards agents in particular, is worrying; and like Emily and others here, I'm concerned by your aggression and easy dismissal of some of the advice you've been given here, and the questions you've been asked.

I suspect that you'll come back with a dismissal of all I've written here: fair enough. You evidently believe in yourself, and your ability to do the job that you've set out to do. So I'll direct you to the research paper I linked to in this blog post of mine, Unskilled and Unaware, (http://howpublishingreallyworks.blogspot.com/2008/08/you-have-to-be-good-to-know-that-youre.html)which discusses how it's difficult for people to realise how bad they are at something until they've developed a reasonable degree of expertise in the area. Please: read the research paper and take some time to consider it. I'm worried for the clients you're taking on, and for the future of their work.


Hi Jane, well done with attempting to predict a response from me. If I dismiss your claims then you are correct. If I don't, then you are correct. You win the internet!

Please be assured I have worked on adult fiction, children's licensed fiction, children's non-fiction, adult non-fiction, romance (ugh), young adult fiction and a whole range of other exciting projects (like the Pearson Junior Atlas, where I was project editor).

When I asked earlier what experience I would need to show I didn't get much of an answer. Apparently you can either be an established agent or some faker liar poseur and there is no other option. It is impossible to be a new agent with six years of publishing experience as an editor, writer, copywriter, copyeditor, project editor, proof-reader, SEO writer ... you get the idea.

I have a footprint online. You can find books I've written and edited in libraries. You can find books that I pitched, negotiated and took from idea to delivery. This isn't enough though. I must also have some deep respect for agents and never dare suggest that agents work less than horrendous hours.

Perhaps if I kept to the script I would be allowed in the club.

Terie
10-13-2009, 01:06 PM
Mine is quite a simple position: agent work is not nearly as difficult and time-consuming as some people (agents included) make it out to be.

How, exactly, do you know this? You aren't a successful agent yet. You haven't sold anything yet. You have an opinion, which you've shared repetitively here, but you don't actually have evidence to back it up.

Several people have suggested that you come back in six months and let us know how your novel approach (pun intended) is working out. I think that would be a good approach.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 01:19 PM
How, exactly, do you know this? You aren't a successful agent yet. You haven't sold anything yet. You have an opinion, which you've shared repetitively here, but you don't actually have evidence to back it up.

Several people have suggested that you come back in six months and let us know how your novel approach (pun intended) is working out. I think that would be a good approach.

I'm pretty sure I wrote in that giant whopping post way back how I know that agent work isn't as difficult as it is made out to be.

I have sold things, as I say on my website, for myself. That is job one for being a freelance writer and editor. I sold a children's fiction book to a Melbourne publisher at the start of 2006. Signed the contract, even got myself an advance. Then the publisher bought out her partners and goodbye company and publishing deal. It's still unpublished. It's called Voodoo Cloud if you're buying.

Of course I know this means squat. Apart from random traces around the web with my name down as an editor on some title, I can't really prove I negotiated a deal worth $160,000. It's not like you get reference letters.

Emily Winslow
10-13-2009, 01:45 PM
There is a PR element to agent work. Talking up sales online and in trade newsletters. Pretending there is a deep and secret connection to editors and publishers. Telling a client how difficult the job is in case they ever start to think that 15% isn't justified. To acknowledge and talk about this PR element is forbidden, apparently.

Mine is quite a simple position: agent work is not nearly as difficult and time-consuming as some people (agents included) make it out to be.

I guess I just don't see where real live agents are making it out to be arcane and mysterious. It *is* hard work to do it well, just like most jobs are. And lots of agent blogs make an effort to describe the specifics of the work because it's a job most people don't know about. I like hearing about that sort of thing.

I think the emphasis comes up because so many aspiring writers have expectations of an agent's duties (like expecting them to critique rejected queries). Agent blogs do try to show how this can't possibly fit into their schedule, which to me is quite reasonable.

The connections to editors and publishers aren't "deep and secret," but they are real.

I don't "justify" my agent's 15% by how hard I think they worked. I justify it by the results! Just as she doesn't care how hard I worked to write a good scene. Maybe I slaved, or maybe it came to me in a flash. Doesn't matter. So, my agent's good results are what I respect, not how much effort it took. I've never felt like the target of agent advertising, either from her or from the blogs I follow. (Except for "talking up sales," which is just common sense statement of facts, not hyperbole.)

Oh, and there's a question from upthread I never found the answer to. What publishers do you intend to target? Just Australia, all English-speaking countries, or anywhere and everywhere? These threads are mainly for the edification of writers choosing agents to query, and that's something they'll need to know. Thanks!

Izz
10-13-2009, 01:49 PM
When I asked earlier what experience I would need to show I didn't get much of an answer.Yes you did, but you've chosen to disregard that answer, which is entirely your prerogative. That doesn't necessarily make it any less of a correct answer, though.


Apparently you can either be an established agent or some faker liar poseur and there is no other option. It is impossible to be a new agent with six years of publishing experience as an editor, writer, copywriter, copyeditor, project editor, proof-reader, SEO writer ... you get the idea.It's possible to be a new agent with that experience. You're a new agent, which shows how possible it is. But whether you can be a successful new agent with that experience remains to be seen.

Talk is great. But, as you know, it's also cheap. Results are what matters. Come back when you've got some results and then you can discuss this from a position of strength.

Your author PR platform (the whole dribble out pages and torrents and chapter updates and such) is something that a lot of self-published authors already use, in different variations. I still can't see how your model differs particularly from what i can do myself if i choose to.


I have a footprint online. You can find books I've written and edited in libraries. You can find books that I pitched, negotiated and took from idea to delivery. This isn't enough though. I must also have some deep respect for agents and never dare suggest that agents work less than horrendous hours.

Perhaps if I kept to the script I would be allowed in the club.Sarcasm isn't helping you here, even though I realize that blustering and playing the pariah may be a deliberate marketing strategy (i'm not saying it is, mind, just that it could be), but right now it's weakening your position even further.

Yes, i do think that some of the statements made in this thread by people other than yourself have come out more personal than they should've. But responding to those statements in a similar (and sometimes worse) vein is not a good idea.

And yes, i agree that your age makes no difference to whether you can be a successful agent or not. Neither does your location (though you do need to be aware that the publishing industry in different countries operates in different ways, and i'm not sure you realize, or are willing to accept, that fact just yet; unless you're only going to sell work in Australia and possibly the UK, which means you might already know all you need to, but you'll need to make that plain to people querying you).

I'm sad that priceless1 brought age up, because that can easily be used by some as an excuse to invalidate the rest of her argument which, coming from a publisher who works in the USA, and does so successfully, is all pretty valid.

You keep saying you've refuted, with evidence, claims made by others in this thread. I can't see any of that. You've refuted claims with claims of your own, but that is not evidence. And your statements don't even register as anecdotal on the evidence scale. In fact, the way this discussion is centered, you won't be able to provide evidence to back your claims up until you have actual experience as an *agent*. Not 'in the publishing industry,' but as an agent.

I'm also quite certain that 24/7 was not used here to literally mean 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but to indicate long hours, and any day of the week. Is the term 24/7 not used in Australia with that meaning? I know it's used here in NZ to mean such.

I know of one agent who operates a Query Letter Critique blog to help writers sharpen up their queries, and she recently stated that she had 1709 query letters waiting in the inbox of that email address. She's also stated elsewhere on that blog that she receives thousands of query letters (proper ones) a month. Clearing that slush would take a fair amount of work all on its own, without taking into account needing to work with authors to sharpen manuscripts, shop those manuscripts to publishers, take into account publisher suggestions, go back to author, etc.

But, that being said, if you're only working 8-10 hours a day then great. But right now you're not actually representing any authors, are you? I'll be interested to see whether you're able to maintain those hours once you do have some authors in your stable. I hope you can. Sincerely.

You say you've brokered deals for yourself. Cool. Lots of authors do that. Plenty of authors have never used an agent and are plenty successful. Perhaps you were able to broker a deal for yourself based on your past record and sales. Pitching an unknown writer to a publisher is a completely different equation.

The fact you can broker a deal is a plus in your favor, but until you've done the same for clients other than yourself it doesn't mean diddly-squat.

None of the above means i want you to fail. Quite the opposite. But the way you're arguing your position right now isn't helping your cause.

Marian Perera
10-13-2009, 01:49 PM
IIRC, when deals are reported on Publishers Marketplace, the monetary value of the deal is reflected in the terminology - e.g. nice deal, very nice deal, etc. That's one way writers can tell if an agent has negotiated a deal worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Terie
10-13-2009, 01:57 PM
I'm pretty sure I wrote in that giant whopping post way back how I know that agent work isn't as difficult as it is made out to be.

I have sold things, as I say on my website, for myself. That is job one for being a freelance writer and editor. I sold a children's fiction book to a Melbourne publisher at the start of 2006. Signed the contract, even got myself an advance. Then the publisher bought out her partners and goodbye company and publishing deal. It's still unpublished. It's called Voodoo Cloud if you're buying.

Of course I know this means squat. Apart from random traces around the web with my name down as an editor on some title, I can't really prove I negotiated a deal worth $160,000. It's not like you get reference letters.

I've sold four books on my own, books that actually were published. I hooked a friend up with an editor with whom I was acquainted and who I knew was looking for books like his, and he got a huge deal out of it...six books published from it and counting. I helped another friend with her memoir, helped her (ahem) query and find an agent, who sold the book for well over GB£50,000.

None of this qualifies me to be an agent. As a matter of fact, I now actually have an agent, one of the top ones in the biz.

The proof will be in the pudding. If you start making good solid sales, then you'll have the legs to stand on; until then, all you're doing is slinging your opinion around as if it's fact.

ETA: When I said upstream that you haven't sold anything, I was explicitly talking about selling your clients' work as an agent. Being able to sell your own work is only subsidiarily relevant to being an agent; selling other people's work is what agenting is about. This whole thread is about your agenting business, not your own freelance writing or editing.

My point is that you can't say your approach works until you prove that it does.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 02:43 PM
I've sold four books on my own, books that actually were published. I hooked a friend up with an editor with whom I was acquainted and who I knew was looking for books like his, and he got a huge deal out of it...six books published from it and counting. I helped another friend with her memoir, helped her (ahem) query and find an agent, who sold the book for well over GB£50,000.

None of this qualifies me to be an agent. As a matter of fact, I now actually have an agent, one of the top ones in the biz.

The proof will be in the pudding. If you start making good solid sales, then you'll have the legs to stand on; until then, all you're doing is slinging your opinion around as if it's fact.

Hi Terie - congratulations on your success.

Could I ask ... given your experience, what extra skills would you need to acquire to become an agent?

Terie
10-13-2009, 03:01 PM
Hi Terie - congratulations on your success.

Could I ask ... given your experience, what extra skills would you need to acquire to become an agent?

I'm a writer, not an agent. There's a whole plethora of skills I'd need, not to mention those contacts and relationships you disdain, to be an agent, the vast majority of which I have no clue about. Because I'm a writer, not an agent.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 03:01 PM
Yes you did, but you've chosen to disregard that answer, which is entirely your prerogative. That doesn't necessarily make it any less of a correct answer, though.

It's possible to be a new agent with that experience. You're a new agent, which shows how possible it is. But whether you can be a successful new agent with that experience remains to be seen.

Talk is great. But, as you know, it's also cheap. Results are what matters. Come back when you've got some results and then you can discuss this from a position of strength.

Your author PR platform (the whole dribble out pages and torrents and chapter updates and such) is something that a lot of self-published authors already use, in different variations. I still can't see how your model differs particularly from what i can do myself if i choose to.

Sarcasm isn't helping you here, even though I realize that blustering and playing the pariah may be a deliberate marketing strategy (i'm not saying it is, mind, just that it could be), but right now it's weakening your position even further.

Yes, i do think that some of the statements made in this thread by people other than yourself have come out more personal than they should've. But responding to those statements in a similar (and sometimes worse) vein is not a good idea.

And yes, i agree that your age makes no difference to whether you can be a successful agent or not. Neither does your location (though you do need to be aware that the publishing industry in different countries operates in different ways, and i'm not sure you realize, or are willing to accept, that fact just yet; unless you're only going to sell work in Australia and possibly the UK, which means you might already know all you need to, but you'll need to make that plain to people querying you).

I'm sad that priceless1 brought age up, because that can easily be used by some as an excuse to invalidate the rest of her argument which, coming from a publisher who works in the USA, and does so successfully, is all pretty valid.

You keep saying you've refuted, with evidence, claims made by others in this thread. I can't see any of that. You've refuted claims with claims of your own, but that is not evidence. And your statements don't even register as anecdotal on the evidence scale. In fact, the way this discussion is centered, you won't be able to provide evidence to back your claims up until you have actual experience as an *agent*. Not 'in the publishing industry,' but as an agent.

I'm also quite certain that 24/7 was not used here to literally mean 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but to indicate long hours, and any day of the week. Is the term 24/7 not used in Australia with that meaning? I know it's used here in NZ to mean such.

I know of one agent who operates a Query Letter Critique blog to help writers sharpen up their queries, and she recently stated that she had 1709 query letters waiting in the inbox of that email address. She's also stated elsewhere on that blog that she receives thousands of query letters (proper ones) a month. Clearing that slush would take a fair amount of work all on its own, without taking into account needing to work with authors to sharpen manuscripts, shop those manuscripts to publishers, take into account publisher suggestions, go back to author, etc.

But, that being said, if you're only working 8-10 hours a day then great. But right now you're not actually representing any authors, are you? I'll be interested to see whether you're able to maintain those hours once you do have some authors in your stable. I hope you can. Sincerely.

You say you've brokered deals for yourself. Cool. Lots of authors do that. Plenty of authors have never used an agent and are plenty successful. Perhaps you were able to broker a deal for yourself based on your past record and sales. Pitching an unknown writer to a publisher is a completely different equation.

The fact you can broker a deal is a plus in your favor, but until you've done the same for clients other than yourself it doesn't mean diddly-squat.

None of the above means i want you to fail. Quite the opposite. But the way you're arguing your position right now isn't helping your cause.

The problem with forums is once the thread grows too long it becomes too hard to refer back to what was actually said. Soon the positions are misrepresented and people are responding to summaries of what other people have written. Then it becomes a tiresome chore of "that's not what I said, that's not what I wrote, that's not my position".

This thread has well and truly gone in that direction. The 24/7 used by priceless1 wasn't hyperbole. It wasn't meant to mean long hours. Then the bit about the agent spoken about in hushed tones. Ugh.

The author PR platform described isn't wholly and solely my approach. It is a diversion into a what-if of what a decent agent might do. One who is aware of the possibilities around us.

I'm not sure exactly what position it is of mine that is being weakened by talking on here. Wow, an agent who comes clean and says agents don't work all hours. Wow, an agent who talks about the unimportance of query letters to agents.

Talk is cheap and only result matter. No problem with that. I do however have a problem with the construct of "what an agent is" that people like priceless1 have constructed. You can't be a new agent. You must be an experienced agent only. You must have worked under another agent for a number of years. You must say that being an agent is a difficult job and agent work horrendous hours. Anything else and you are a liar or a fake or a wet behind the ears inexperienced fool.

I have brokered deals for others actually. The problem is that I wasn't their agent and it was unpaid. In one case I helped a writer and illustrator get their series away from their terrible publisher and place it with a new children's publisher. Believe me, once I have an official deal to talk about, I'll be doing so.

My point of difference that I'm quite proud to offer is absolutely no bullshit. So I'm happy to talk no bullshit out on the web.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 03:10 PM
I'm a writer, not an agent. There's a whole plethora of skills I'd need, not to mention those contacts and relationships you disdain, to be an agent, the vast majority of which I have no clue about. Because I'm a writer, not an agent.

Hi Terie - you see, this is a misrepresentation of my position regarding contacts and relationships. I simply say that due to the churn in publishing, the contacts and relationships aren't as important as they once were. Editors don't hang around in jobs for years and years. Picking up the phone is easy. Publishers are desperate for the best new thing and as a result they do answer the phone.

Making new connections and being personable over the phone and in writing is very important as is the ability to pitch for a meeting.

Regarding agent skills, I suspect you must already have some of them. You've surely read and understood all the clauses of your publishing contact. You've surely seen a royalty statement and understood it. You've surely understood the terms of foreign sales. You surely understand royalty rates, discounted sales, remainders, sample copies and must have a pretty good idea about marketing plans.

I'll bet you can write a decent advance information sheet and sales copy too.

Don't sell yourself short - as a writer with a publishing deal I'll bet you understand quite a lot.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 03:25 PM
I guess I just don't see where real live agents are making it out to be arcane and mysterious. It *is* hard work to do it well, just like most jobs are. And lots of agent blogs make an effort to describe the specifics of the work because it's a job most people don't know about. I like hearing about that sort of thing.

I think the emphasis comes up because so many aspiring writers have expectations of an agent's duties (like expecting them to critique rejected queries). Agent blogs do try to show how this can't possibly fit into their schedule, which to me is quite reasonable.

The connections to editors and publishers aren't "deep and secret," but they are real.

I don't "justify" my agent's 15% by how hard I think they worked. I justify it by the results! Just as she doesn't care how hard I worked to write a good scene. Maybe I slaved, or maybe it came to me in a flash. Doesn't matter. So, my agent's good results are what I respect, not how much effort it took. I've never felt like the target of agent advertising, either from her or from the blogs I follow. (Except for "talking up sales," which is just common sense statement of facts, not hyperbole.)

Oh, and there's a question from upthread I never found the answer to. What publishers do you intend to target? Just Australia, all English-speaking countries, or anywhere and everywhere? These threads are mainly for the edification of writers choosing agents to query, and that's something they'll need to know. Thanks!

Hi Emily - as I write in my submission guidelines:

International submissions
Please send in your submissions but also be aware that I am an Australian agent. I am primarily looking to sell work to the Australian market first and the world next.

It's clear that my stance on "the churn" of editors is at odds with the idea that agents and editors are buddies with close warm relationships. When I look at any industry newsletter, the Personnel and Moves section is always long. What do you make of that?

I don't deny that being able to establish relationships is important but I do strongly contend that agents and editors are not as buddy-buddy as agents claim they are.

I like some agent blogs too and there are some ripping publisher blogs around the place. But even some of those are fibbing just a little.

Agents work incredible hours ... but they've got time to update their blogs.
Agents work incredibly hard ... or did they simply make a call at the right time?
Agents must form close relationships ... but editors get fired or quit with shocking frequency.

I agree that good work requires effort and there are hard times in every job but to hear the way some people tell it, agents work day and night and no one else could possibly do that job.

Terie
10-13-2009, 03:27 PM
Regarding agent skills, I suspect you must already have some of them. You've surely read and understood all the clauses of your publishing contact. You've surely seen a royalty statement and understood it. You've surely understood the terms of foreign sales. You surely understand royalty rates, discounted sales, remainders, sample copies and must have a pretty good idea about marketing plans.

You have no clue about what I can and can't do when it comes to making deals. You don't know whether my contracts are good, whether I did a good job negotiating them, whether I've been ripped off by others.

What I do have is exactly what any other experienced writer who's spent a long time learning the publishing ropes from a writer's perspective has. That isn't nearly enough to be an agent. If it were, why would I have an agent myself?

If you conflate writing skill, a happy acquaintance, an ability to craft effective query letters, and the knowledge of how to research good publishers and agents into qualifications to represent other people's work, goddess help your clients.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 03:35 PM
You have no clue about what I can and can't do when it comes to making deals. You don't know whether my contracts are good, whether I did a good job negotiating them, whether I've been ripped off by others.

What I do have is exactly what any other experienced writer who's spent a long time learning the publishing ropes from a writer's perspective has. That isn't nearly enough to be an agent. If it were, why would I have an agent myself?

If you conflate writing skill, a happy acquaintance, an ability to craft effective query letters, and the knowledge of how to research good publishers and agents into qualifications to represent other people's work, goddess help your clients.

Hmm ... clearly you haven't read about my qualifications or anything further than a single page. I worked in-house as an editor, have worked as a freelance editor and writer for years and have a project list a mile long.

I was asking you about what you perceive to be the skills agents need but you seem unwilling to delve into it.

Let me ask you this instead: why do you think the knowledge acquired from the writer's perspective isn't enough to be an agent? That implies you are at least aware of the skills required to be an agent if you've judged yourself to fall short.

Goddess help my clients ... well, I'm an atheist so I think I'll just have to rely on skill, knowledge and experience, if that's okay.

mathewferguson
10-13-2009, 03:38 PM
Well bedtime here in Australia so perhaps I'll finish up with something someone pointed out at the start of the thread but seems have been forgotten ...

I'm Australian and we're pretty laid back. We also like to take the piss and we have a very healthy disrespect for authority.

Goodnight everyone.

Izz
10-13-2009, 03:41 PM
The problem with forums is once the thread grows too long it becomes too hard to refer back to what was actually said. Soon the positions are misrepresented and people are responding to summaries of what other people have written. Then it becomes a tiresome chore of "that's not what I said, that's not what I wrote, that's not my position".I read the entire thread before i responded. More than once. Twice actually, if we're going to be specific.


I'm not sure exactly what position it is of mine that is being weakened by talking on here. I'll re-quote what i said so you can see why i said what i said.


Sarcasm isn't helping you here, even though I realize that blustering and playing the pariah may be a deliberate marketing strategy (i'm not saying it is, mind, just that it could be), but right now it's weakening your position even further.
<snip>
But the way you're arguing your position right now isn't helping your cause. Completely discounting the statements people are making (and that are being made by people with the experience to make them) with blanket responses that are basically nothing more than 'i don't agree so therefore you're wrong' is a surefire way to have the same said about your own statements, especially when you don't have the authority yet (even though you might think you do) to make those statements. You may have authority to make those statements in the future, but right now you don't.

And responding with sarcasm and self-righteousness weakens that position even further.


You can't be a new agent. You must be an experienced agent only. You must have worked under another agent for a number of years. You must say that being an agent is a difficult job and agent work horrendous hours. Anything else and your are a liar or a fake or a wet behind the ears inexperienced fool.And i contend that you're misreading, or at least misinterpreting, the comments you're referencing here. Nobody's said what you say they've said, just like nobody has explicitly stated that you can't be an agent because you're from Australia (people have said that it sounds like you don't have any experience with the US market and are potentially basing your expectations on the Australian market, which does not work in the same way, which is an entirely different thing to what you appear to think they're saying). What people have repeatedly said is that wholesale dismissal of the basic things that agents (and particularly those in the USA) need, which you appear to be doing, is dangerous and setting yourself up for failure.

Or is it in your better marketing interests to claim that people are saying those things?

Remember, we see a lot of people through here who are scam artists, or terribly misinformed. I'm not saying you're either of those, but the way you're conducting yourself makes you appear as one who knows better because they say they know better (which is almost the way you're accusing others of acting).


Believe me, once I have an official deal to talk about, I'll be doing so.Good. But one deal does not a successful agent make. If you have a stable of happy authors and several good publishing deals within the next 6 months to a year, then you're on your way to successful.


My point of difference that I'm quite proud to offer is absolutely no bullshit. So I'm happy to talk no bullshit out on the web.But you're not doing that right now. You're coming across very bullish and misinformed and reminding me of a lot of vanity presses and self publishing advertisements.

Anyway, i do wish you the best. Check back in 6 months and tell us how you're going.

Terie
10-13-2009, 04:30 PM
Goddess help my clients ... well, I'm an atheist so I think I'll just have to rely on skill, knowledge and experience, if that's okay.

I, for one, have had enough of your intentional misreadings and sarcasm. This is an interesting choice of how to present yourself professionally, and it isn't doing you any favours.

priceless1
10-13-2009, 04:31 PM
Now you're saying that as well as Mat being ruled out as an agent because he's Australian, and hasn't been an assistant in an agency that he's too young??? What a bigoted midset we're uncovering here. Are you aware how young some agents are these days?
Oh good grief, I'm well aware of the youth that persists in publishing. Many editors and agents look to be about twelve years old, yet they are bright, articulate and EXPERIENCED. So let me be very clear here.

I am of the opinion that since Mat lives in Australia - and therefore isolated from the UK and US - he must be unfamiliar with how agents work in other countries because his insistence that agents don't work long, arduous hours (as I do) is ignorant and untrue. He clings to this belief post after post, yet can offer no proof to back up his claims. How can he possibly presume to know how all agents operate in all countries? This is a guy who didn't even know how to put forth a proper query in the US.

I deal with agents every day and am in a very good position to know how they work. There has been many a Sunday when agents and I talked about a manuscript. But does he listen to anything I have to say - based on my firsthand knowledge? No. Instead, I get a "the Emperor has no clothes" remark. It's brash, arrogant, and impertinent.

He claims the whole "let's put a chapter a day on the internet and make biggie sales" is innovative. It's been around the block many times and is a screeching black hole that eats authors for lunch.

He claims establishing relationships with editors is archaic, and this is plain wrong. I've stated why and how this is wrong in previous posts. I have manuscripts that are repped by some big agents, so I think I have a better perspective than someone who has made no verifiable sales.

Lastly, he is unwilling to listen to those who work in this business, giving the appearance that he has all the answers and everyone else is wrong - that we believe in myths. When I put all those ingredients together, I come up with impatience, youth, and inexperience.

If an agent who doesn't listen, learn, and respect those in the business floats your boat, then by all means, query him. Maybe he'll be effective at signing you in the Aussie marketplace, which is very small. But I have serious doubts whether his "innovative" ideas about agenting will make a single dent in the US. And I think I have the platform to back that up.

James D. Macdonald
10-13-2009, 05:00 PM
I was asking you about what you perceive to be the skills agents need but you seem unwilling to delve into it.



The skills needed to be an agent?

The ability to actually sell books to real publishers.


In early 2009 (http://www.mathewferguson.com.au/about.html) Mathew decided it was time to start earning commission for the various agent services he was providing.
In a stunning leap of ego, he named the company after himself and went into business.

It's now late 2009. Please list your sales.

eqb
10-13-2009, 05:58 PM
...some of you are certainly fulfilling the stereotype of "Ugly American." There are other ways and places in this world, Horatio.

Oy. What a way to deliberately misread posts.

No one said the US way was the only way. What everyone clearly said was that US and Australian publishing worked in different ways, and that if an agent wanted to sell to US markets, it would be wise to know the difference.

BenPanced
10-13-2009, 06:11 PM
His age and being Australian have f^kc all with being an agent. His lack of agenting experience and general attitude have turned me off completely from even considering a submission.

eqb
10-13-2009, 06:15 PM
One (more) thing that bothers me. On his agency website, on the page for Services and Rates (http://www.mathewferguson.com.au/services-and-rate.html), Mat says he will "Edit your work, book proposal and query materials."

Which is great. Many agents edit their clients' work. However, on his personal website, I came across this page (http://chaoticempire.com.au/mathew/ferguson/freelance/writer/would-have-versus-would-of/), where he states that "would of" (instead of "would have") is now correct English.

Um, no. Just...no.

BenPanced
10-13-2009, 06:29 PM
Supposubly it's correct because he's declared it thus?

So let it be written! So let it be done!

:Wha:

Old Hack
10-13-2009, 06:33 PM
But if Matthew's ideas are so old-hat and stale and failed, what about Authonomy?

Apparently, Harper-Collins feels that's a viable way to pick authors from a slush pile. And thus got themselves a smart guy who used his contacts at his gaming sites to round up enough 'votes' to get himself a publishing contract.

Sorry, SA, you're wrong here. All that Klazart (I think that's his name) achieved by playing Authonomy in the way that he did was to get his mss in Authonomy's top five, and so get it read by one of HC's editors. He didn't automatically win a publishing contract. He might have been offered one since--I don't know, I've not checked, but I've not heard about it--but that wasn't part of the deal, and would depend a lot on his writing ability.

Eirin
10-13-2009, 06:37 PM
But if Matthew's ideas are so old-hat and stale and failed, what about Authonomy?

Apparently, Harper-Collins feels that's a viable way to pick authors from a slush pile. And thus got themselves a smart guy who used his contacts at his gaming sites to round up enough 'votes' to get himself a publishing contract.

Sure. It happens. Just like there's the occasional self-pub success story. It's just that those cases are the exception, rather than the rule, and if the display-your-work-online method worked to any significant degree, we'd all be doing that by now instead of querying agents, because the idea, as has been repeatedly stated, is neither new nor untried.
Promoting it as such, and as a viable, even probable, way to garner the attention of editors/publishers, betrays either a disturbing lack of knowledge or an equally disturbing carelessness with other people's work. Possibly both.
I really recommend reading Old Hack's blogpost on being unskilled and unaware. (http://howpublishingreallyworks.blogspot.com/2008/08/you-have-to-be-good-to-know-that-youre.html)


That's all I was wondering. And please remember, Mat may be coming across as a young, brash, sarcastic kid; but some of you are certainly fulfilling the stereotype of "Ugly American." There are other ways and places in this world, Horatio.(Bolding mine)

Indeed. Not all posting here are from the US.

eqb
10-13-2009, 06:42 PM
Supposubly it's correct because he's declared it thus?:Wha:

He's confusing spoken English with the written language. If you pronounce "would have" (or the contracted form "would've") quickly, you get something that sounds like "would of."

Language does change, of course. Words change meaning, sometimes drastically. "Disinterested" is gradually losing its original meaning because so many people mistakenly think it means the same as "uninterested."

"Would of" isn't there yet, except in the minds of sloppy writers.

Old Hack
10-13-2009, 06:51 PM
The 24/7 used by priceless1 wasn't hyperbole. It wasn't meant to mean long hours. Then the bit about the agent spoken about in hushed tones. Ugh.

Mat, you might pride yourself on your sense of humour but it seems that you only notice jokes when you're the one making them. I made the comment about my agent being spoken of in hushed tones: you appear to have missed my dry wit and subtle irony. So I'm pointing them out to you now, so that you don't make that same mistake again.


As Mat has eloquently said, it's the writing that matters. All the rest is BS.

If you're a writer, yes. If you're an agent, no. You need to know about agenting, which is a whole other kettle of fish.

priceless1
10-13-2009, 07:18 PM
Mat may be coming across as a young, brash, sarcastic kid; but some of you are certainly fulfilling the stereotype of "Ugly American." There are other ways and places in this world, Horatio.
If I'm an Ugly American by giving out straight-talking information as to how the agent/editor world really works, then yes, I imagine I do meet those parameters. Sorry to have wasted everyone's time. I made the mistake of thinking this was a Beware's board where we share information.

Emily Winslow
10-13-2009, 07:23 PM
Hi Emily - as I write in my submission guidelines:

International submissions
Please send in your submissions but also be aware that I am an Australian agent. I am primarily looking to sell work to the Australian market first and the world next.



Thanks, Mat.

CaoPaux
10-13-2009, 07:30 PM
*achem* I'm becoming of a mind to close this thread until the New Year, at which time we can fully access the efficacy of Mr. Ferguson's paradigm.

Does anyone have a fresh dead horse to beat?

BenPanced
10-13-2009, 07:32 PM
:deadhorse

IT MOVED! I SWEAR!

priceless1
10-13-2009, 07:33 PM
priceless1, who said you were the one I meant? Strange that you immediately took it personally.
Quite right. Assumptions are a dangerous thing. I'll speak to my tailor about having it hemmed. Since my posts appear to be taking the most heat, I deduced that I was the object of derision.

jsouders
10-13-2009, 07:35 PM
Not to be rude, but maybe we should go back to talking about Mr. Ferguson instead of picking on each other. I, for one, would like to know what houses exactly he's worked for. I think that would go a long way to prove his experience. Then again, I'm a newbie. :)

eqb
10-13-2009, 07:42 PM
*achem* I'm becoming of a mind to close this thread until the New Year, at which time we can fully access the efficacy of Mr. Ferguson's paradigm.

Do we need to wait until New Year? As Jim pointed out, Mat opened his agency in early 2009. Shouldn't he have a few sales by now?

Cyia
10-13-2009, 08:20 PM
Maybe someone can calm down enough to answer this that I'll preface by admitting I know nothing about using the web for promotion, nor for that fact, not using it.

But if Matthew's ideas are so old-hat and stale and failed, what about Authonomy?

Apparently, Harper-Collins feels that's a viable way to pick authors from a slush pile. And thus got themselves a smart guy who used his contacts at his gaming sites to round up enough 'votes' to get himself a publishing contract.

I can't help but wonder how many of those contacts actually are readers and thus buy books. Yet, Harper Collins will have to publish the guy's book. And another thing, although they claim--sincerely I'm sure--that the content of their site of Autonomy is secure and can't be downloaded. It simply ain't so. I have a friend in western Canada who said with a few moves of his mouse, he downloaded a mss. from them. I don't know how. Don't really care. The important thing is that it can be done. So the site isn't as safe as it's touted to be.

That's all I was wondering. And please remember, Mat may be coming across as a young, brash, sarcastic kid; but some of you are certainly fulfilling the stereotype of "Ugly American." There are other ways and places in this world, Horatio.


Authonomy doesn't guarantee contracts for those top books, it guarantees professional readers. It also guarantees that the slush which makes up most of the site (as it does most slush piles of which Authonomy is a digital version) will never have to be seriously considered by them or anyone else. Those books are "published". First rights are gone and can't be sold to another publisher. Other publishers won't even look at them - not even the good ones - because they've been available in final form for free for too long. That's why the "post a little at a time" method doesn't work.

Not only might the author run out of steam and never finish (as a few have), but the author is wagering the book's entire future on that one publisher. If they don't make the cut, the book is dead - whereas had they queried the finished book, they could have been considered at multiple agencies/publishers and used the interest to get a better deal. IF someone makes the cut with the house supporting a scheme like this one, they're locked into whatever deal the house offers because they can't go anywhere else; they gave that option up for instant gratification in the form of peer comments.

(Should you actually want one of the books, you can print it as a PDF to a virtual printer on your computer. No downloading required.)

Misa Buckley
10-13-2009, 09:03 PM
Sorry to take this off-topic, but I'm really confused. I've been reading a lot lately about building a "platform" and that includes posting from your novels.

Now I'm reading that it classes as first-rights etc etc.

So a question to the publishers out there (maybe priceless1 can help, though I'm aware she 'only' covers non-fiction) - do agents and publishers really want new authors to have an audience?

And if not, why are we encouraged to blog, twitter and so on?

This is not being snarky or anything, I'm just genuinely confused because I'm being told two seperate things.

Cyia
10-13-2009, 09:08 PM
Sorry to take this off-topic, but I'm really confused. I've been reading a lot lately about building a "platform" and that includes posting from your novels.

Now I'm reading that it classes as first-rights etc etc.

So a question to the publishers out there (maybe priceless1 can help, though I'm aware she 'only' covers non-fiction) - do agents and publishers really want new authors to have an audience?

And if not, why are we encouraged to blog, twitter and so on?

This is not being snarky or anything, I'm just genuinely confused because I'm being told two seperate things.

I am NOT a publisher, but--

Excerpting isn't the same as posting the whole thing lock, stock and barrel then trying to sell it. However, from the things I've read here and elsewhere, posting excerpts before your book is agented/sold/about to come out within a matter of a month or two, it's premature to post an excerpt. People get bored waiting that long for more story. You can always try posting an independent story to gain readership - either a serial novel (one you won't be selling) with the one chapter at a time method or short stories.

CaoPaux
10-13-2009, 10:13 PM
Do we need to wait until New Year? As Jim pointed out, Mat opened his agency in early 2009. Shouldn't he have a few sales by now?One would think so, given the contacts and easy communication he claims to have. But, we'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he's in negotiations which he cannot disclose: so it's only fair to give him a couple more months to announce some sales before we apply our myth-based measure to his New & Improved system.

victoriastrauss
10-13-2009, 10:57 PM
The query letter is only important as a barrier to filter out wannabe writers. Paper based submissions serve the same purpose. By making it difficult to submit material for consideration, only the truly dedicated will jump through the hoops. This, in theory, gets rid of the writer who completes their first draft and then finds an email address to send it to.

In the US, paper submissions (as a requirement, rather than an option) are becoming less and less common. So if ever that was a filtering mechanism, it's one that's quickly vanishing.

Again in the US, the query letter IS a barrier--period. It's intended to be one. Yes, ultimately in the publishing sense, it's the ms. that counts. But US writers have to run the query gauntlet first. Do I think this is a good thing? No. It's a pain in the butt. I'm very grateful that I no longer have to worry about writing queries. But it's a fact of life--again, for US writers--and trying to argue that it's not is just plain wrong.


I've seen the "query for the query" and look forward to the next ridiculous iteration: agents who work on submitting your work to agents.There are such people. They are either clueless amateurs, or unscrupulous fee-chargers. Either way, they have no standing in the publishing world, and are to be avoided.

- Victoria

victoriastrauss
10-13-2009, 11:09 PM
It also guarantees that the slush which makes up most of the site (as it does most slush piles of which Authonomy is a digital version) will never have to be seriously considered by them or anyone else. Those books are "published". First rights are gone and can't be sold to another publisher. Other publishers won't even look at them - not even the good ones - because they've been available in final form for free for too long.

I disagree. I think that the "using up first rights by posting on the Internet" issue is a relic of the dawn of the Web, when it wasn't clear exactly what e-rights were, what value they'd have, or how they'd be used. Now that everyone knows how tiny most Internet exposure actually is, I seriously doubt that any publisher would care if you displayed your whole book on your website, or on a site like Authonomy--as long as you weren't actively offering it for sale.

I'm not saying it's a great idea to put your whole book online--given the cacophony of the Internet, it's probably a waste of pixels--just that having done so would not necessarily deter a publisher from buying your book, if it felt the book was marketable.

As of last week, there were 4,000 manuscripts on Authonomy, and just 3 had been picked up for publication by HarperCollins (at least one of them under special circumstances that, basically, circumvented Authonomy). All in all, this is probably worse odds than just querying and submitting in the conventional way.

- Victoria

Swordswoman
10-13-2009, 11:31 PM
I very much hope this thread is allowed to stay open, as it is bringing a breath of very welcome fresh air into our dark corridors.

Because basically Mathew is right. The publishing world is changing. I know that's frightening, I totally understand the need to stick our fingers in our ears and say 'No, no, no, it's all about who you know, it always has been, always will be, world without end, amen.' It's hard when the rules you've always played by start to look crumbly and serve only to define you as 'out of touch'. There are still people on AW who insist Courier 10 point is the only possible font for submission. It's hard.

I'm frightened too. I only know how to write books, and a lot of this new stuff scares me. SEO? Giving away free content? E-books, Kindle, interactive content - La, la, la, I'm so not listening.

But the big boys are, and that's why they'll survive. There was a great article by Jeremy Ettinghausen (Digital Publisher at Penguin UK) in this autumn's 'The Author' (trade magazine of The Society of Authors) recounting the work and research the big publishers are doing in the wake of US technology venture-capitalist Fred Wilson's comment on the launch of the Kindle: 'I don't want to consume media I can't interact with. I want to...Tag it, post it, reply to it, comment on it, favourite it, share it, gift it, quote it, whatever...' Penguin is leading the way in the UK (marrying literary and gaming worlds, experimenting in the 'We make Stories' project last year, eg doing a retelling of 'The 39 Steps' that could be followed on Google maps, or author Nicci French telling a story in 'real time' live on the net, so viewers could watch the words as they were actually typed) but the other big ones are moving too - eg Harper Collins with the 'Amanda project', where the book is actually teamed with complementary videos.

This is the future. The internet has changed everything. We have to learn that - or go under.

Fortunately for me, I have a top, top agent who knows all about these things and is steering me safely through. I have a good, safe, conventional book deal with Penguin, but yes, she really does need to know about SEO in my case, yes, she's pushing me on websites and video trailers, yes, yes, all of it, yes. Mathew is right. An agent who doesn't know how to use thse things will soon become a dinosaur.

And no, he's never said these things are a substitute for selling a manuscript in the traditional way if it's good enough. He mentioned these things because he was pressed on what a modern agent needs to know, and has made clear he may well approach a publisher before going the website route at all - if the manuscript's good enough. Uncle Jim has always said that while 'very good' books stand an excellent chance of being published, there's a whole mass of stuff in the middle which may or may not make it within a certain time-frame. I don't see anything scary in Mathew suggesting a helping hand for those who might otherwise not stand out. Why should I? I think he's right.

And the rest of it?

I'm afraid (in my opinion) he's right there too.

An agent does not work 'nearly 24/7'. I've seen this assertion many times on AW and it makes me feel sick every time. I've done a job that was nearly 24/7 - alarm at 05.45 every morning, at work by 7.00, no lunch break, home by 21.30, allow one hour for dinner (including cooking it, eating it and washing it up), work till midnight, go to bed. Weekends I set the alarm for 06.30 to give myself a lie-in but otherwise worked the same hours. Sometimes I did more - in crisis times I worked right through the night, had a shower and went back to work. I did this for two and a half years and it nearly killed me.
What priceless1 now says she means by 'nearly 25/7' is an occasional bit of work on a Sunday. To me, that scarcely even counts as a full-time job, and certainly doesn't classify as 'long, arduous hours'. I know someone who works on the deli counter at our local supermarket who does more hours than that. There is nothing in sometimes working on weekends to justify any unusual respect at all - not these days. Ten years ago maybe - not now. Times have changed. To say one works 'long, arduous hours' when one even has time to post on a forum like this is insulting to people who really know what hard work means.

It is possible there are exceptions, and I certainly don't want to argue outside my experience. A small publisher who can't afford enough staff may well work very punishing hours, for instance. An agent who works that much, however, is almost by definition a bad agent. They've either taken on more clients than they can handle, or they've chosen the ones they've got so poorly they desperately need more in order to earn enough money. Reading posts here sometimes gives one the impression that a successful agent is one with the most clients, when if we think about it for one minute we can see the opposite is true. Choose well, sell well, and you'll only need two or three. Put it this way - if J.K.Rowling were your client and you were getting 10%, how many other clients would you need...?

Which is what I like best about Mathew's approach here. He is the only one posting who consistently points out the importance of a manuscript being good. He's saying never mind the contacts, never mind the ability to write a snappy query, what you need is a good book. I say 'hallelujah!' Those who've read the whole thread will know he's already explained why he isn't making sales yet - because he's still busy reading submissions, waiting till he finds a client good enough. I say hurray to that too. He's not snatching at the first desperate hack he can find to hitch a ride on the back of, he's looking for something special.

That's why I think it's unfair of us to say 'give him six months, if he hasn't sold by then he's toast'. Who are we - his bank manager? If he's prepared to wait it out to find the right client, isn't that his problem? Yes, if he gets a list of clients and then fails to sell, I'd agree there's a problem - because it's then the writers' careers at stake as well as his own. But I don't think the clock should even start ticking till then.

Yes, this is the forum for Bewares and Background checks, and of course we must ask searching questions in order to protect the unwary. Yes, we're absolutely right to make it clear to everyone this is a new and untried agent, so anyone who wants to query him goes in fully prepared. Beyond that, I'm not quite sure why we'd see a need to tear him down. He has answered with devastating and far-from-self-serving honesty, and remained robustly good-humoured in the face of some very personal attacks. I don't want to derail the thread any further in that direction, but I'd just say that the technique of belittling someone by abbreviating their name belongs more properly in the playground than a serious forum like this one.

Surely we should instead focus on what the agent himself says he offers, and whether it's borne out by our own experienced knowledge? He says quite clearly on his website (and obviously no-one here would attack someone's name and character without first doing the basic research of reading it) that he is aiming at present at the Australian market. An attack based on his supposed ignorance of the US market is therefore both irrelevant and misplaced. It has been stated here as a 'fact' that the US and UK markets are different from the publishing world Mathew describes. That is not a fact at all - the UK world is very similar indeed to that description. No, the query letter doesn't matter here as long as the manuscript is good. No, personal contacts don't mean anything like as much as they used to here because editors move around a lot. No, (good) agents don't work 24/7. No, they're not spoken of in hushed voices. Here what matters is a damned good book, and personally I'm glad of it.

I've been very glad to see the US world starting to move the same way. Nathan Bransford, for instance, actually invites pages of manuscript along with the query, which is a sign of a good agent to me - someone who's looking for a good writer rather than someone with the knack of writing good blurb. I know it's been mentioned the blurb skill is ultimately important because of how readers choose books in the store - but that blurb is not written by the writer but the editor. A writer does not need that skill, and a system predicated on the belief that he does seems to me personally a little... strange. We've been told in this thread that that's how it works here, so fair enough - but let's not assume that something that happens in the US is necessarily the standard for the world.

I'm sorry to post at such length. I've been trying to resist posting at all - but I'm afraid the threat to close the thread had the effect of a 'last chance sale!' on me and I weakly gave in.

I have no axe to grind here. I'm not a publisher or agent with a mystique to protect, I already have an agent and no need to try to ingratiate myself with one. I'm just a writer, and all I'm offering here is what my own experience has shown. It may be different from others - but we want to show all sides of the case, don't we?

And one last thing. Stillalive - since no-one else has mentioned it, I'm so sorry to hear about your health difficulties, and incredibly impressed with your determination to go on and be so positive. You have real guts, and I'm not surprised you showed the cancer where to get off. Good luck out there - you deserve it.

Louise

eqb
10-13-2009, 11:35 PM
Misaditas, it's not all gloom and doom. In my case, I can still try to sell my short to an anthology.

This is OT, but just to quickly address your concerns....

Point 1) You have already used up first rights. You can't get them back. All you have left are reprint rights. However....

Point 2) It doesn't matter if your story stays in the archives--you can still sell those reprint rights elsewhere. The only caveat is whether the markets in questions, the original and the reprint market, require exclusivity.

Eirin
10-13-2009, 11:37 PM
Still alive, first rights can't revert or be returned. Once something has happened for the first time, it's been done.
If your short story was printet in an online magazine, first rights are gone forever. Even if you can find an agent to take on a short story for sale to an anthology (doubtful), you'd have to disclose previous printing history. Anything else would be dishonest, and also something that could come back to bite you where you don't want it to.

Misa Buckley
10-13-2009, 11:41 PM
I am NOT a publisher, but--

Excerpting isn't the same as posting the whole thing lock, stock and barrel then trying to sell it. [snip] You can always try posting an independent story to gain readership - either a serial novel (one you won't be selling) with the one chapter at a time method or short stories.

Thanks for that Cyia, that gives me something to chew on.

Cyia
10-13-2009, 11:47 PM
Still alive, first rights can't revert or be returned. Once something has happened for the first time, it's been done.


QFT.

There was a LONG back and forth on this with another poster in the Ask the Agent thread last week. She kept insisting that she had all her rights, even though the book was up for sale from a vanity publishing site. (They told her she kept her rights.)

Think of it like owning an original Picasso and a high quality print of the same. You put them both up for sale and someone snaps up the Picasso because you're selling it for a ridiculously low amount (like $1). Now another buyer comes along and offers you a fair price for your Picasso - you're elated, so you haul out the print. The new guy says he won't pay premium for the reprint, even though it looks identical in color and texture and is the same in every way except the one that counts... it's not the original. First rights work the same way.

eqb
10-13-2009, 11:52 PM
Because basically Mathew is right. The publishing world is changing.

No one is arguing that point.

I'm frightened too. I only know how to write books, and a lot of this new stuff scares me. SEO? Giving away free content? E-books, Kindle, interactive content - La, la, la, I'm so not listening.Note that most of the content is provided by publishers after they have acquired and edited the novel.

What gives me pause is that Mat wants to edit and publish his clients' material before he sells it. In other words, he wants to recreate the display sites of the previous decade.

I think his ideas for releasing a book in increments are great...for books that editors have already bought and edited. Others have already done the same thing, five or ten years earlier. Baen, Tor, and others. But again, those are published books, or they are experiments by established writers who have a fan base. They are not unpublished books by unknowns.


He is the only one posting who consistently points out the importance of a manuscript being good. Because that should be a given.

That's why I think it's unfair of us to say 'give him six months, if he hasn't sold by then he's toast'. Who are we - his bank manager? This should be obvious, but in case it's not....

We ask what his sales are precisely because that is what concerns the writer seeking any agent. If he's using an unusual approach to sell his clients' manuscripts, it's a reasonable question to ask: does that approach work?

Swordswoman
10-14-2009, 12:20 AM
No one is arguing that point.

Oh good. I thought I saw posts challenging Mathew's point that personal contacts don't matter so much now, that agents now need to be on top of how technology can be used to help their clients' careers and so on. If everyone acknowledges the world really is changing - then what exactly are we arguing about?


Note that most of the content is provided by publishers after they have acquired and edited the novel.

Note that posts above have already pointed out it is sometimes done before acquisition, especially in Australia where Mathew is planning to market. Note also that (as I pointed out) Mathew is not proposing to do this in advance of publication except where he thinks it's needed. I didn't quite get your point what's wrong with that...


What gives me pause is that Mat wants to edit and publish his clients' material before he sells it. In other words, he wants to recreate the display sites of the previous decade.

He has said he may sometimes do this where necessary. That's an interesting comment on the last decade, though - why exactly are we assuming this will be done an old-fashioned way, in the days before people even knew what SEO stood for?

Why exactly are we homing in on one single example as to the advantages of knowing how to use SEO? There are others - but (like Mathew) I'm not going to post them publicly for reasons I'm sure you can guess. If not, please feel free to PM me.


Because that should be a given.
I so agree. Which is why I find the insistence on a query system which means an agent may not even see a manuscript at all so very disturbing. I'm glad Mathew does too.


We ask what his sales are precisely because that is what concerns the writer seeking any agent. If he's using an unusual approach to sell his clients' manuscripts, it's a reasonable question to ask: does that approach work?

Of course that's a fair question, exactly as I outlined it above. If a writer wants an experienced agent with a history of sales for his clients, he knows Mathew is not that man - Mathew has told us so himself. Our job is to ensure writers are informed, and no-one reading this thread could not be.
What I was objecting to was our insistence that he must make sales within six months whether or not he's even got a client...

Louise

eqb
10-14-2009, 12:34 AM
Oh good. I thought I saw posts challenging Mathew's point that personal contacts don't matter so much now, that agents now need to be on top of how technology can be used to help their clients' careers and so on. If everyone acknowledges the world really is changing - then what exactly are we arguing about?

The world is changing. No one argues that. But it's not necessarily changing exactly as Mat claims. Hence various disagreements.

But, y'know, all that was obvious from the thread.

Getting back to Mat's viability as an agent...

Writers should look for agents who have a footprint in publishing or agenting. If the agent is setting up a new shop, it's not unreasonable to expect to sales within six months.

Eirin
10-14-2009, 12:51 AM
...

What I was objecting to was our insistence that he must make sales within six months whether or not he's even got a client...


No one's insisting he must make sales. That's between him and his clients. He's being asked to post sales in order to prove that his brave, new-if-you-squint approach works.

When you present yourself as an agent, you'll be expected to sell your clients' work to commercial houses. That's what literary agenting is.
If, on the other hand, you're setting out on a crusade to reforge the publishing industry, or otherwise tread new paths, it's only fair that you should divulge that to your clients. It might not be what they expect.

Swordswoman
10-14-2009, 12:52 AM
The world is changing. No one argues that. But it's not necessarily changing exactly as Mat claims. Hence various disagreements.

Sorry if I misunderstood, but you seemed to be quoting my own post where I was saying the world was changing in exactly the way Mathew said. Maybe you were quoting someone else when you said no-one disagreed, or maybe you were taking the line out of context?

But of course it's always fair to disagree. Is it Australia or the UK you're saying the world isn't changing that way? Mathew's talked about Australia, I've talked about the UK - which of us is it you're saying is wrong, and could you give us some facts to support it? Or do you mean that others have disagreed, not that you necessarily do yourself?


Writers should look for agents who have a footprint in publishing or agenting. If the agent is setting up a new shop, it's not unreasonable to expect to sales within six months.

Mathew has already told us he has a 'footprint' in publishing, and it's really good to see someone else broad-minded enough to acknowledge that's an alternative to a 'footprint' in agenting.

As for the sales in six months - yes, I'd agree. As I said above, if one has a client to sell, then six months is reasonable. If one hasn't - it would be a little like saying a writer ought to find an agent in six months even if he hasn't yet finished his novel. What I said was that the clock should not start ticking until he has that client -would you not agree?

Louise

eqb
10-14-2009, 01:02 AM
Sorry if I misunderstood, but you seemed to be quoting my own post where I was saying the world was changing in exactly the way Mathew said.

I quoted you exactly. I did not take anything out of context.

Swordswoman
10-14-2009, 01:22 AM
No one's insisting he must make sales. That's between him and his clients. He's being asked to post sales in order to prove that his brave, new-if-you-squint approach works.

Of course. But you know, I don't think I imagined the suggestion that he had to post sales within six months whether or not he had a client. I thought that was rather implied here:



In early 2009 (http://www.mathewferguson.com.au/about.html) Mathew decided it was time to start earning commission for the various agent services he was providing.In a stunning leap of ego, he named the company after himself and went into business.
It's now late 2009. Please list your sales.

and here:


Do we need to wait until New Year? As Jim pointed out, Mat opened his agency in early 2009. Shouldn't he have a few sales by now?

and here:


But, we'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he's in negotiations which he cannot disclose: so it's only fair to give him a couple more months to announce some sales before we apply our myth-based measure to his New & Improved system.

I don't know, but that's what those posts seemed to say to me. Of course it's possible these people didn't read the whole thread where Mathew said he was still combing submissions for clients, but it would be pretty rude of me to assume they'd post without reading the whole thing first.

To reiterate - I have no axe to grind for Mathew or anyone. Neither do I need to pay homage to the incredibly dedicated agent-image in the hope I'll get picked up by one. I just wanted to share my experience, which I've done. Why would anyone want to argue with that? We can all share our experience, can't we?

Seriously, why not share yours? Personally I think the best way of getting at facts is for us to all contribute what we know of our own experience, rather than going into philosophy of what should-or-should-not happen in worlds we maybe don't know quite so well. My experience of the industry in the UK coincides with Mathew's in Australia. Should I not say so?

And a big fat cheer for Victoria, who clearly knows something of the UK system, and doesn't like the US query system either. I abolutely totally agree that while the query system continues to rule in the US then it's irresponsible for anyone to suggest it doesn't, and that US writers should neglect to brush up their query skills. What I would point out is that Mathew never did say US writers shouldn't do just that. As his website points out, he's looking at the Australian market. If anyone here assumed 'publishing' had to mean the US, they were... wrong.

Even so, it's good Victoria cleared that up, because it's possible a US writer might dip in here without reading the whole thing, and then yes, the effect could be damaging. None of us want that.

Louise

Swordswoman
10-14-2009, 01:29 AM
I quoted you exactly. I did not take anything out of context.

Yes, I thought it was me you were quoting. 'Out of context' maybe means something different to us, however. To me, it would mean eg quoting Bob Dylan's 'The times, they are a-changing' without the rest of what he was saying, and claiming people agreed or disagreed with it regardless. That's why I used the expression here.

But I don't want to fight with you, eqb, you're someone I respect. Can't we just speak of the experience we have and say yep, this tallies, no, this doesn't? I'm too old and tired for point-scoring - why don't we just swap what we have and see what we all learn? That works for me.

Louise

victoriastrauss
10-14-2009, 01:42 AM
I abolutely totally agree that while the query system continues to rule in the US then it's irresponsible for anyone to suggest it doesn't, and that US writers should neglect to brush up their query skills. What I would point out is that Mathew never did say US writers shouldn't do just that.

Well, he did, kinda, since I made it clear in my first response to him that I was talking about US writers and the importance of queries in the US, and he posted back to disagree with me.

The publishing world is broadly similar across nations that have significant book markets. But there are many differences, both in practice and in culture (I mean publishing culture, not culture culture)--of which the query letter issue is only one. It's risky to generalize about publishing in one country based solely on your knowledge of publishing in another.

I'm not a mod any more, but I think we need to cut Matthew some slack. He's brash, he's new, he's tech- and Web-savvy, and he's got a lot of strong opinions (I can relate!). I don't agree with everything he says (and honestly, who cares how many hours an agent works, as long as s/he gets the job done?)--in fact, I don't agree with a lot of what he says. And I think a little of what he says is plain wrong. But time will tell, and I think his enthusiasm and obvious passion are certainly good qualities for an agent to have.

- Victoria

Swordswoman
10-14-2009, 01:49 AM
Well, he did, kinda, since I made it clear in my first response to him that I was talking about US writers and the importance of queries in the US, and he posted back to disagree with me.

You're quite right, Victoria, and I apologise for careless reading. In his post 60 he does indeed disagree with you on that, and I do think that was irresponsible. Yes, some US agents do ask for manuscript along with query, but a lot clearly don't, and those skills are very, very important to writers in the US.


I'm not a mod any more, but I think we need to cut Matthew some slack. He's brash, he's new, he's tech- and Web-savvy, and he's got a lot of strong opinions (I can relate!). I don't agree with everything he says (and honestly, who cares how many hours an agent works, as long as s/he gets the job done?)--in fact, I don't agree with a lot of what he says. And I think a little of what he says is plain wrong. But time will tell, and I think his enthusiasm and obvious passion are certainly good qualities for an agent to have.

That sounds pretty fair to me.

Louise

mathewferguson
10-14-2009, 03:33 AM
Hi everyone, I'll reply in general and hopefully that will will cover everything. :-)

I haven't taken on any literary agent clients. I haven't found a good enough manuscript yet. I have written quite a few rejection letters. Earlier in the thread I talked about rejecting an almost there book and inviting the writer to submit something else. I haven't read his next submission yet but if it lands in the same quality area as his first one then I'll probably be calling him up to offer representation.

So no sales because I haven't taken on a client.

I do represent two illustrators via On The Wall which is focussed more on licensed work and illustration. I got one of the illustrators a small job last week but I'm not really counting it yet because, well, it's a small job.

I don't actually claim that "put a chapter on the internet per day", etc, is innovative. That was a tiny offshoot of a conversation about why a modern agent needs to know about SEO. Somehow people are now thinking it is the entirety of my approach despite later on again clarifying that I expect most sales to be quite standard and that web promotion and audience building would only be used in certain circumstances.

To clarify again, just for those who might want to misrepresent my position again: I expect most of my sales to be completely standard. I do however say that any agent who does not know about SEO, web technologies, the possibilities of licensing (including getting chapter samples into various magazines), the difference between a torrent and a download ... has no business being an agent. They need to hang up their spurs.

On connections and this all-so-important relationship between editors and agents: Imagine you are an agent and you've got a really good children's fiction manuscript. You have your shortlist of publishers and at some of the places you know the editor and at others you used to know the editor before they moved on and you even worked for a few of them directly as a writer some years ago AND then you think about a publisher where you have no contact at all. Let's call them Red Publishing.

What are you going to do for Red Publishing? You know they publish children's fiction. You've gone over their catalogue. You've gone to bookshops and checked out their range. What is the first step? Ah, a phone call! "Hi, I'm X, a literary agent. Could I speak with your children's editor?"

Once the phone call is underway then it comes down to being friendly, time of day, are they looking, do they want to get out of the office for a coffee, can you pitch, and so on.

All necessary skills. Sales techniques. Phone technique. That editor will most likely pick up the phone and talk to an agent they've never met before because they want the new cool thing - and their job depends on it.

Establishing relationships is VERY important. But the churn of editors means that most of those relationships don't last longer than a few years. Only if editors stay in publishing when they move around does the relationship really matter. And the relationship means squat if you don't have a publishable manuscript. No relationship, no matter how close and friendly can get an average book published.

To clarify for those who would seek to misrepresent me: Relationships important but not as important as made out to be DUE TO THE CHURN.

I work in publishing. I've worked in and around publishing since 2003. When someone says I'm unwilling to listen to those who work in the business ... I WORK IN THE BUSINESS! I'm not unwilling to listen - I disagree with you. I'm happy to consider any evidence you might have for the position that agents work horrendous hours. I explained how I came to my position and it wasn't on the basis of a single conversation with a single overworked agency peon.

I also cannot believe that people are not willing to admit that agents could possibly be talking up the difficulty of their job because they are trying to justify taking 15%.

Eqb - yes, I wrote a post about would of vs would have. Yes, I talked about common usage. I have long contended that common usage beats everything. This is why email beats e-mail which beats electronic mail. This is why a character in a book can say brb and it is correct. A sample from my post: "So many editors and writers forget that language is a living thing. Whatever way people use language is ultimately correct."

And just because it comes up again and again: I do not advocate the bullshit display your manuscript on this site and editors will come a-calling method. It is shit. It is garbage. It is a waste of time. I do advocate, for the right manuscript, putting bits of it or the entire thing out to the web for very specific purposes. For example, if I wanted to show downloads then I would release something via a torrent. THIS IS NOT THE FIRST AND ONLY CHOICE. Please stop taking a tiny bit of a tiny fragment of conversation and pretending it is the whole of my position. I merely mentioned torrents in the context of things agents should know.

I gave many examples of successes that didn't start the traditional way - The Wiggles, Sex In the City, Bridget Jones's Diary, Emily the Strange, Scary Girl. Of course people then come out and try to claim these are special cases or the exceptions to the rule. Yes, in some ways they are exceptions. Not every book published is going to start off as a blog or a newspaper column. But it is very important to acknowledge that there are more ways up the mountain than just agent -> publisher. Acknowledging these alternate pathways does not make one some "innovative" soon to be failure who is hung up on eBook publishing or some vanity garbage scheme.

CaoPaux: I do not have a "new and improved system". Stop repeating such tripe please. I am very similar to most agents out there and I fully expect most sales to be quite standard ones. But I am also very aware of where money is available and that there is more than one way to make it to the top.

Eqb: I do not want to "recreate the display sites of the previous decade". I expect most agents should know how to edit a manuscript. I put editing and the ability to write sales copy in the list of skills an agent should have. You are incorrect on the value of releasing eBooks or books in increments. You are using the same argument as many others: it only works for an established author or it only works for someone experimenting. Nope. A non-fiction book with a website and thriving community beats a non-fiction book with no website.

And to reiterate: I'm not generally using an "unusual" approach to sell a manuscript. But I will if it will get it sold.

As for the differences between AU, US and UK, yes they do exist. But they are not as vast as people claim. Yes there are agents in the US who only want to see a query letter and nothing else. If you want to be repped by them then you'll have to write a good query letter. Of course this leads us to another interesting area called being disobedient. In this area is the fascinating idea that publishing houses who say they are not accepting new submissions ... accept new submissions. In this area is the idea that agents who insist on a single page query letter will still read a chapter if you send it.

But I don't dare open that hornet's nest by suggesting you don't always have to follow the rules. What would I know? I got my first job writing for Penguin by not following the rules. Ah, another topic for another day.

eqb
10-14-2009, 06:53 AM
Mat, I'm glad to see that you have clarified a few of your earlier statements so they no longer read as blanket declarations. Best of luck to you. I look forward to hearing about your sales.

(And let us know how your own experiment with the Super Monkey Group books (http://chaoticempire.com.au/mathew/ferguson/freelance/writer/category/free-ebook-download/) turns out.)

Unimportant
10-14-2009, 07:09 AM
I also cannot believe that people are not willing to admit that agents could possibly be talking up the difficulty of their job because they are trying to justify taking 15%.
Quick question -- if agents in general really don't work all that hard and are just pretending they do to justify their 15% commission, and if you're aware of this (and whistleblowing to us on all those overpaid slackers), then, erm, why are you charging a 15% commission on domestic sales and a 30% commission on foreign sales?

James D. Macdonald
10-14-2009, 10:10 AM
I don't know, but that's what those posts seemed to say to me. Of course it's possible these people didn't read the whole thread where Mathew said he was still combing submissions for clients, but it would be pretty rude of me to assume they'd post without reading the whole thing first.


I have read the whole thread. I recommend you re-read it. I also recommend that you follow some of the links that have been given.

Here's another link for you: This is nothing like an official FAQ (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=58205).

Yet another link: Agents charging Fees (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=978).

Please note the dates on the various posts in those threads. E.g: "Fact is, publishing is always changing." That's from 2004. Five years ago.

My impression of Mat is that he's eager, energetic, and gormless. I expect that he'll find out that agenting isn't as easy as he thinks, as soon as he starts agenting.

Old Hack
10-14-2009, 10:27 AM
If anyone is interested in reading an agent's account of her working week, I'd suggest that they read Carole Blake's great book, "From Pitch to Publication". Ms Blake is a very well-known literary agent in the UK and includes Maeve Binchy in her client-list: her book makes it quite clear how hard she works in order to earn her 15%. She's in Frankfurt at the moment, and has been reporting from there on Twitter, where she uses the name @caroleagent.

Emily Winslow
10-14-2009, 10:56 AM
I also cannot believe that people are not willing to admit that agents could possibly be talking up the difficulty of their job because they are trying to justify taking 15%.

See, I think when agents talk about how hard they work, it's to get rejected writers to quit demanding rereads and/or critiques. Every time I've seen an agent describe their workload, that has been the context. Many people are under the misconception that an agent's entire job is to "read queries." It's not. It's to represent their clients; reading the queries to find new clients is only a part. Detailing the work that goes into representation is an attempt to educate those who think the agent owes them more than yes or no.

When they want to "justify their 15%", they talk about the gulf between the advances and contract details agented writers get v. the advances and contract details self-represented writers get.

Also, I think there may be an American/Australian difference here, not in publishing culture, but in sheer numbers. I think that American agents, based on population size, deal with more queries than Australian agents do. (Perhaps I'm wrong, but that seems common sense to me. I'm happy to be corrected.)

A lot of the American query system is necessary evil to cope with the enormous amount of queries. Agent Jennifer Jackson recently mentioned in her blog that she has, to date, received about 7000 queries so far this year. That's more than 150 per week. Yes, it would be nice if agents could read manuscripts instead of queries, but at that rate it really, really can't be done. The current system, which is the first few pages + query letter for context, works well for this amount of mail.

Also, I've read angry rejected writers complain bitterly on message boards about agents who requested partials or fulls, and then rejected them "too quickly." "I just know they didn't read the whole thing!" they wail. And the agent probably didn't. Most of the time, you don't need to read much to know it's not what you're looking for. Asking writers to submit more than the first few pages with query would result in plenty of complaints from that slant.

People don't like being rejected. Agents are darned if they do, darned if they don't.

Terie
10-14-2009, 12:55 PM
What are you going to do for Red Publishing? You know they publish children's fiction. You've gone over their catalogue. You've gone to bookshops and checked out their range. What is the first step? Ah, a phone call! "Hi, I'm X, a literary agent. Could I speak with your children's editor?"


To clarify for those who would seek to misrepresent me: Relationships important but not as important as made out to be DUE TO THE CHURN.


I also cannot believe that people are not willing to admit that agents could possibly be talking up the difficulty of their job because they are trying to justify taking 15%.

I posit that keeping up with editor 'churn' is part of what agents do to earn their 15%.

I can say with absolute certainty that my agent would never call a publisher's general line and ask to speak with 'your children's editor'. He would already know the editor's name and phone number, regardless how new the editor was to that particular job.

I am also fairly certain that the editors I've worked with would never take seriously an agent who called the publisher's general line and asked to spead with 'your children's editor'.

I don't know why anyone would sign with an agent who doesn't think that the work is worth 15% and still charges their own clients 15%.

Swordswoman
10-14-2009, 11:15 PM
I have read the whole thread.

Yes, as I said, I assumed you had. But genuinely not being snarky, you'll surely understand why it's hard to understand why when you already know Mathew has no clients yet you would post this:



In early 2009 (http://www.mathewferguson.com.au/about.html) Mathew decided it was time to start earning commission for the various agent services he was providing.In a stunning leap of ego, he named the company after himself and went into business.
It's now late 2009. Please list your sales.

I'm probably being very stupid but I honestly don't see how somebody with no clients can be expected to list their sales. I'm sure there is a good reason, but I honestly, honestly don't know it.


I recommend you re-read it.

I have. It's taken half an hour out of BIC time, but when James MacDonald tells me to do something I do it. It felt a little like being told to write 100 lines, but still I did it. There was nothing in there to change what I have said.

Please don't misunderstand me. I have no problem whatsoever in admitting when I've got something wrong. I checked as soon as Victoria posted, found I had indeed missed something and promptly posted a correction and apology. That kind of honest debate is very important to me. I know it's easier to ignore all the points a fellow member makes which one's unable to answer, pounce on something out of context or twist it to the excluded middle until one can happily attack something the other person has not said, but I don't personally believe in that approach. If I've said something untrue or wrong, please tell me, and I will very happily retract.

This isn't about winning points here for me. The only people I want to see win are my fellow writers, which means as much open, honest debate as possible to ensure they are given clear facts from relevant up-to-date experience as possible. It is, for instance, important to establish Mathew is new and relatively inexperienced - a writer needs to know that before making a decision whether or not to query. I would still respectfully suggest it remains the decision of that individual writer, and that it is important we do not obscure the issue with questionable statements, eg that publishing in the UK is very different from Australia, or that agents do indeed work 24/7. Truth matters.


I also recommend that you follow some of the links that have been given.

I did that too. You are not only a Mod here, you are someone I greatly admire and when you tell me to do something I do it. I had already done it, but I did it again. I still didn't actually see anything to contradict the facts of my own experience, which is what I have so far been guilty of posting.


Here's another link for you: This is nothing like an official FAQ (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=58205).

I did that too. I saw again the warning against inexperienced agents, which is a subject we've already dealt with several times.


Yet another link: Agents charging Fees (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=978).

Yes, I read that again too. I was a little unsure of its relevance, since Mathew does not seem to be charging fees, and his website says specifically:


For this work, I charge 15% commission. This means if you receive a $5000 advance and $1.60 per book royalty, I'll earn $750 and 24 cents per book. For foreign rights sales the commission rate may rise to 30%. The services of an overseas agent may be engaged and they require payment.
No other fees

A commission on earnings is the only money I will ever charge. This means no reading fees, editing fees, printing fees, sandwich fees, transport fees ... no fees of any kind will be charged. Agents that charge such fees are not really agents; they're scam artists in disguise. Money flows to the client, not the other way around.

If this is untrue, then please, for the sake of the writers here I would beg you to post that information. If Mathew is secretly charging fees, we should certainly be told. If he isn't, I don't quite understand the relevance of warning us away from agents who do.


Please note the dates on the various posts in those threads. E.g: "Fact is, publishing is always changing." That's from 2004. Five years ago.

Yes of course it is. If these posts had also said that editor churn meant the gradual demise of the importance of the 'personal agent/editor relationship, or that an agent who did not understand how to optimise the various new aspects of the internet was out of touch, then that point would be extremely relevant. I don't criticize them for not saying so - those things weren't anything like as true five years ago, but they are now.

James, you are an 'Absolute Sage' here - and I would respect you even if you weren't, not only because of your publishing achievements but because of the time and effort (and wisdom) you give to your fellow writers on these boards. You really, really do not need to post de haut en bas to other writers to enhance your status - it is already unquestioned.

I am not quite sure why posting my own experiences in the UK has incurred this public rebuke, but I am relatively new here and must assume I have somehow transgressed pretty seriously. I shall therefore retire gracefully so the forum can continue debate in the manner it prefers.

Louise

Shimshon
10-14-2009, 11:54 PM
If anyone is interested in reading an agent's account of her working week, I'd suggest that they read Carole Blake's great book, "From Pitch to Publication". Ms Blake is a very well-known literary agent in the UK and includes Maeve Binchy in her client-list: her book makes it quite clear how hard she works in order to earn her 15%. She's in Frankfurt at the moment, and has been reporting from there on Twitter, where she uses the name @caroleagent.

Great book. It really opened my eyes to what I was getting in to seven years ago when Carole suggested I buy her book. I only wish she had liked my MS enough to have taken me on; a more dedicated and hard working agent one couldn't find. However, seven years is a long time. Times they are a changin', or have already.

eqb
10-15-2009, 12:25 AM
I posit that keeping up with editor 'churn' is part of what agents do to earn their 15%.

Definitely.

A few months ago, I had finished a YA novel. My agent knew who would be interested in the kind of book I'd written. She also knew who had moved where. From there, she and I picked a preliminary list for submissions, but without her expertise, I would be lost.

Unimportant
10-15-2009, 12:36 AM
I'm probably being very stupid but I honestly don't see how somebody with no clients can be expected to list their sales. I'm sure there is a good reason, but I honestly, honestly don't know it.


I took it to mean that most agents, within six months of publicly hanging out their shingle, have either a) made sales, and will probably go on to be successful, or b) have made no sales, and probably never will. Just going on the probables, Mathew seems to be falling into the latter category.

When I go to an agent's page, the first thing I look for is their list of clients and their list of recent sales. So, though I'm a Kiwi and thus would have an interest in selling to Oz markets, I'd not put this agent on my To-Query list at this time.

eqb
10-15-2009, 01:02 AM
I took it to mean that most agents, within six months of publicly hanging out their shingle, have either a) made sales, and will probably go on to be successful, or b) have made no sales, and probably never will.

To be fair, they *might* go on to make sales.

But given a choice between New Agent A, who is making sales, and New Agent B, who isn't, the obvious choice is Agent A.

Mat does have a footprint in publishing, which is good. However, most new agents with a footprint bring in clients from the start--either clients from the agency where they worked before, or clients they edited. So far, Mat has no fiction clients and no sales. This is not good, from the point of view of a new writer seeking an agent.

If he's making sales within the next three months--which would be a year from his start--then I'd reconsider.

(Personally, I'd also want to make sure he isn't doing crap editing such as substituting "would of" for "would have" but that's just me. I like proper English.)

Emily Winslow
10-15-2009, 01:12 AM
I took it to mean that most agents, within six months of publicly hanging out their shingle, have either a) made sales, and will probably go on to be successful, or b) have made no sales, and probably never will.


Yes, of course that's what it means. But Swordswoman is asking when to start the clock. Can't make a sale until you have clients.

Unimportant
10-15-2009, 01:14 AM
I agree that Mat has a footprint in publishing, and an author with a children's book looking for Oz representation could certainly do worse than to talk to him. However, I think Mat probably doesn't have the experience or knowledge to do much for, say, an author with a SF novel whose goal is to publish with one of the NY-5.

Izz
10-15-2009, 01:17 AM
I'm probably being very stupid but I honestly don't see how somebody with no clients can be expected to list their sales. I'm sure there is a good reason, but I honestly, honestly don't know it.If Matthew has the financial security to wait for however long it takes for his dream client to show up, then all power to him. Most agents, however, don't have that security. So most agents need to have clients and be selling work within 6 months to a year to survive.

And if an agent isn't, that often shows they don't really know what they're doing. Not always, but as an indicator for a writer looking for an agent, then it raises questions.

But this has already been touched on in this thread and is, for the most part, commonsense.


Yes, I read that again too. I was a little unsure of its relevance, since Mathew does not seem to be charging fees, and his website says specifically:

If this is untrue, then please, for the sake of the writers here I would beg you to post that information. If Mathew is secretly charging fees, we should certainly be told. If he isn't, I don't quite understand the relevance of warning us away from agents who do.I don't think Uncle Jim posted that link because he thinks Matthew is charging fees. That was merely the thread title. The context of Uncle Jim's post shows that he pointed to that thread (and the other one) to demonstrate that publishing is always changing, and that people have always been saying it's changing, and somehow we're all surviving within the industry without needing to drastically overhaul every process at every step. And saying that publishing is changing is what Matthew has done here (and you also). And nobody has disagreed with that.

But, as has already been stated a lot in this thread, completely dismissing advice from those who are in the industry and have been successfully for a long time with an attitude of 'you're wrong because publishing is changing' is creating potential for disaster.

Matthew has clarified his position somewhat, which is good (even though he regresses back to form a wee bit in the latter half of his last post), but Uncle Jim's observations are still sound.

Of course, if Uncle Jim posted those threads for a different reason, then i'm sure he'll correct me :)


I am not quite sure why posting my own experiences in the UK has incurred this public rebuke, but I am relatively new here and must assume I have somehow transgressed pretty seriously. I shall therefore retire gracefully so the forum can continue debate in the manner it prefers.
Ah, the polite 'everybody's picking on me' flounce. Louise, i'm not sure why you're taking this so personally. I don't see that anybody is picking on you.

What i am seeing, and the statement of yours i quoted just above this last one backs that up, is that you may perhaps interpret the context of a discussion differently to most. So perhaps people are attempting to point out that context to make sure we're all on the same page.

Oh, and disguising punches as slaps doesn't work very well:
I don't know, but that's what those posts seemed to say to me. Of course it's possible these people didn't read the whole thread where Mathew said he was still combing submissions for clients, but it would be pretty rude of me to assume they'd post without reading the whole thing first.Sometimes slaps sting more. :D


eqb, you're beating a dead horse with the "would have' bit, if it's in dialogue!

People say "Would of" not would have. It may not be correct, but neither is "done" for everything complete, or Where's it at? which you hear a lot. It they wouldn't elide the Where is, they wouldn't need the extra beat of the "at." But they do. And so if your character is in group that would of you'd better also do likewise. Agreed?I don't think eqb was talking dialogue.

And not all people say 'would of.'

Terie
10-15-2009, 01:24 AM
And not all people say 'would of.'

No, most of us say 'would've'. :D

eqb
10-15-2009, 01:33 AM
I don't think eqb was talking dialogue.

I provided a link to Mat's blog post. He said straight out that "would of" is correct English. He made no mention of dialog.

My main point is that a good editor knows current correct usage. For them to do otherwise makes them, and their clients, look ignorant.

BenPanced
10-15-2009, 01:47 AM
People say "would of". People say "irregardless". People say "supposubly". People say "axe you a qwexchun". Unless written dialogue is obviously in dialect, to claim "would of" is correct does a great disservice to anybody hoping to get published.

Wayne K
10-15-2009, 01:54 AM
I say "would've" in dialogue. "Would of" doesn't sound right to me.

Then again, I'm not an expert in incorrect English.

Izz
10-15-2009, 02:04 AM
People say "axe you a qwexchun".Well, that is the only way to get rid of those little beggars.

Droneon
10-15-2009, 04:17 AM
LOL Izz! Not to beat a very dead, exterminated, extinct horse, but "would of" is in no way English, much less acceptable usage. "Would've" is of course OK.

James D. Macdonald
10-15-2009, 04:29 AM
Yes, as I said, I assumed you had. But genuinely not being snarky, you'll surely understand why it's hard to understand why when you already know Mathew has no clients yet you would post this:


...


I'm probably being very stupid but I honestly don't see how somebody with no clients can be expected to list their sales. I'm sure there is a good reason, but I honestly, honestly don't know it.

At what point does the lack of clients stop being a reason and start to be an excuse for lack of sales? He is hardly the first agent to look for the perfect client.

There is only one metric for an author examining an agent: What has he sold?


I have. It's taken half an hour out of BIC time, but when James MacDonald tells me to do something I do it. It felt a little like being told to write 100 lines, but still I did it. There was nothing in there to change what I have said.

I respect you, and I like Mat. I have refrained thus far from doing full-dress line-by-line commentaries on Mat's posts. But still they do not fill me with hope.


Please don't misunderstand me. I have no problem whatsoever in admitting when I've got something wrong. I checked as soon as Victoria posted, found I had indeed missed something and promptly posted a correction and apology. That kind of honest debate is very important to me. I know it's easier to ignore all the points a fellow member makes which one's unable to answer, pounce on something out of context or twist it to the excluded middle until one can happily attack something the other person has not said, but I don't personally believe in that approach. If I've said something untrue or wrong, please tell me, and I will very happily retract.

I have my own opinions on many of the points that have been touched on. For myself, I find it amazing that a solid decade after the dot-com collapse anyone could still say "The Internet changes everything" with a straight face.

SEO (http://powazek.com/posts/2090) (again in my opinion) is the 21st century's version of phrenology.

But these are side issues, and this thread is not the venue for them.



This isn't about winning points here for me. The only people I want to see win are my fellow writers, which means as much open, honest debate as possible to ensure they are given clear facts from relevant up-to-date experience as possible. It is, for instance, important to establish Mathew is new and relatively inexperienced - a writer needs to know that before making a decision whether or not to query. I would still respectfully suggest it remains the decision of that individual writer, and that it is important we do not obscure the issue with questionable statements, eg that publishing in the UK is very different from Australia, or that agents do indeed work 24/7. Truth matters.

If what Mat says about agenting in Australia is true, then agenting in Australia is, indeed, very different from agenting in the USA. On the other hand, no one has said that agents work 24/7. That's a strawman. The argument won't stand.

What is true is that, from the writer's point of view, there is no obvious difference between an agent who is working his tail off and one who is doing nothing at all. That's part of what makes it possible for fee-charging/do-nothing/scam agents to continue on year after year fooling writers. NOTE: I am not saying, or suggesting, that Mat is now or ever has charged fees or been or intends to be anything less than an outstanding agent for his clients. But it seems to me that Mat has the writer's point of view: That agents don't do much. This speaks to his inexperience, and it does not fill me with hope.

It is entirely the decision of the individual writer which (if any) agent to go with. No one has said differently.


I did that too. You are not only a Mod here, you are someone I greatly admire and when you tell me to do something I do it. I had already done it, but I did it again. I still didn't actually see anything to contradict the facts of my own experience, which is what I have so far been guilty of posting.


Thank you. But you are not "guilty" of anything, nor is anyone accusing you.



I did that too. I saw again the warning against inexperienced agents, which is a subject we've already dealt with several times.



Yes, I read that again too. I was a little unsure of its relevance, since Mathew does not seem to be charging fees, and his website says specifically:

...

If this is untrue, then please, for the sake of the writers here I would beg you to post that information. If Mathew is secretly charging fees, we should certainly be told. If he isn't, I don't quite understand the relevance of warning us away from agents who do.

This is very good, and it speaks well for him that he doesn't charge fees. Nor has anyone said, or implied, that he does. The relevance of that thread is that it covers, in some detail, what real agents do and how they do it.



Yes of course it is. If these posts had also said that editor churn meant the gradual demise of the importance of the 'personal agent/editor relationship, or that an agent who did not understand how to optimise the various new aspects of the internet was out of touch, then that point would be extremely relevant. I don't criticize them for not saying so - those things weren't anything like as true five years ago, but they are now.

I disagree that editor churn means the gradual demise of the importance of personal agent/editor relationships. The editor who leaves St. Martin's is very likely to fetch up as an editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The Fee Agent thread spoke of editors squeezed out in mergers and now unemployed. This isn't new. It wasn't new five years ago. It wasn't new twenty years ago. It is only through personal contact that the agent will know the tastes of the editors and what they've bought recently, what they're looking for, and what they reject without a second thought. If a new editor arrives on the scene it is the agent's business to learn those things about that new editor.

It is also certainly true that there are editors who have been at the same houses for the past decade or more.

It is the agent's business to know what is negotiable in a publisher's contract. It is the agent's business to know how to market sub-rights. It is the agent's business to maximize gain and balance offers. The existence of the Kindle does not change any of those things in the slightest.



James, you are an 'Absolute Sage' here - and I would respect you even if you weren't, not only because of your publishing achievements but because of the time and effort (and wisdom) you give to your fellow writers on these boards. You really, really do not need to post de haut en bas to other writers to enhance your status - it is already unquestioned.

I have been brief, and I hope have spoken to the point. Nor am I trying to put anyone down. I found Mat's mis-use of the term "special pleading" to be ... off-putting, and that was the point where I entered this thread. It did not predispose me well toward him. I find his reliance on the strawman argument to be ill-founded. But I feel no animus toward him. I hope he succeeds.



I am not quite sure why posting my own experiences in the UK has incurred this public rebuke, but I am relatively new here and must assume I have somehow transgressed pretty seriously. I shall therefore retire gracefully so the forum can continue debate in the manner it prefers.

Louise

If I had reason to rebuke you, I would certainly do so. But I have no such reason. I admire and respect you. You may certainly leave if you must; doing so requires no permission from me. But I rather wish you wouldn't.

Izz
10-15-2009, 05:19 AM
All I can or will say is that if your characters all speak proper English as you "WRITERS" (or should that be "AUTHORS"? or even "ARTISTES") do, then you'd better take the plugs out of your ears and listen to people around you.still alive, you're missing the point. Dialogue was not under consideration in that post by Matthew that eqb linked to.

All written prose was. Did you read the post? If so, you would of would've (or should've, anyway) seen that. Bringing dialogue into the equation (which doesn't necessarily follow the same grammar rules as other writing does) obscures the point she was making.

Cyia
10-15-2009, 06:18 AM
I say "would've" in dialogue. "Would of" doesn't sound right to me.

Then again, I'm not an expert in incorrect English.

I use "woulda" for dialogue in that case.

Eirin
10-15-2009, 06:41 AM
I've always felt that being a proper artíste requires an acute accent. Gives you just the right touch of affectation and also provides fair warning that pretentiousness is in the offing. Very useful things, acute accents.

Izz
10-15-2009, 06:44 AM
I've always felt that being a proper artíste requires an acute accent. Gives you just the right touch of affectation and also provides fair warning that pretentiousness is in the offing. Very useful things, acute accents.Sometimes accents make people cuter than they would be without them, too.

BenPanced
10-15-2009, 07:55 AM
Izz, please read BenPrance, Droneon and one other I forget above and they were being snide about dialogue!

But why waste energy?
I was being nothing of the sort. I was pointing out an error on Mr. Ferguson's part that he's perpetuating as "proper" written English, which I feel diminishes his capacity to be an effective agent.

Emily Winslow
10-15-2009, 12:09 PM
All I can or will say is that if your characters all speak proper English as you "WRITERS" (or should that be "AUTHORS"? or even "ARTISTES") do, then you'd better take the plugs out of your ears and listen to people around you.

Yes "would've" *sounds* like "would of." In fact, it *sounds* like "wood of." But that's not how it's written.

Listening for natural dialogue doesn't mean transcribing phonetically.

Emily Winslow
10-15-2009, 05:34 PM
I protest to the moderators that making fun of my given name--given to me by my French heritage parents--is personal attack. Something I thought was strictly forbidden on AW.

The posters are getting nastier and more belittling by the minute. And if their only defense of their position is personal attack, their position is mighty weak! Or they're very young and insecure.

Are you sure this is the thread you meant to write this in? I have no idea what posts you're referring to, or what your given name might be...

Emily Winslow
10-15-2009, 06:17 PM
Are you talking about the references to accent marks? They're talking about the word "artistes" (which you introduced), not your name...

(And someone who has a glass of wine is a "drunk"? In any case that is a mean remark.)

Eirin
10-15-2009, 06:20 PM
I meant izz and erinin. How did they discover my given name? I wish I knew.


Whatever are you going on about? I've no idea what your given name is.

Emily Winslow
10-15-2009, 06:22 PM
Yes. Accent marks in the word "artistes." This has NOTHING to do with your name.

You used the word "artistes" sarcastically, to indicate pretentiousness. They built on that, joking that the word can get even more pretentious with the addition of an accent.

They were not insulting you.

Eirin
10-15-2009, 06:46 PM
Still Alive (note the absence of accent, cute or otherwise), if you wish to report a post, just click the little warning-sign triangle in the bottom left corner of the post/s in question.

CaoPaux
10-15-2009, 07:27 PM
I protest to the moderators that making fun of my given name--given to me by my French heritage parents--is personal attack. Something I thought was strictly forbidden on AW.

The posters are getting nastier and more belittling by the minute. And if their only defense of their position is personal attack, their position is mighty weak! Or they're very young and insecure.Srsly? Dude, the fact you'd misread those posts so personally indicates you need to take a step back and regain your perspective. I understand why you want to defend Mr. Ferguson, but at the end of the day only he can make the sales to support his claims.


Emily, in no way was I referring to you. You make cogent arguments.

I meant izz and erinin. How did they discover my given name? I wish I knew.

But I notice that the moderators are letting their remarks stand.

As the old saying goes: This is too much sugar for a time, so if I can discover how to reach the administrator I will let the two uglies in their remarks win. After all, what could I expect from a poster who uses a drunk as an avatar?And now you're crossing the line, not the least because you know damn well how to contact Mods and Admins. Step away from the keyboard.

Droneon
10-15-2009, 07:50 PM
Izz, please read BenPrance, Droneon and one other I forget above and they were being snide about dialogue!

But why waste energy?

At the risk of flogging this seriously expired nag further, I protest that I made no reference whatsoever to dialogue. I merely said that "would of" is not English, "would've" (would have) is. As an auxiliary verb expressing probability, "would" is paired with another verb, like "have," not with a preposition like "of."

Dielog is a diffrent critter altogether and you kin do what's you like with it, but I still say the sound "wood of" would still be spelt "would've" even in that there dielog.

CaoPaux
10-15-2009, 08:05 PM
It could be argued that phonetic dialogue requires it written as "uv" not "of". But it won't be, cuz it's waaay past time for a new topic. Ya'll go 'n' git one now, ya hear?http://foolstown.com/sm/nunu.gif

Eirin
10-15-2009, 08:18 PM
Time for haggis (http://www.djunglepeople.com/v2/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/06/haggis.jpg)?

Haggis
10-15-2009, 08:25 PM
Time for haggis (http://www.djunglepeople.com/v2/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/06/haggis.jpg)?

It's always time for Haggis. :D

Swordswoman
10-15-2009, 08:51 PM
Sorry, everyone, I think I started the derail. A pity, as I do think there's potentially a very useful discussion on here which can benefit us all.

Just clearing the decks quickly first -

James - thank you very much for your response, which is greatly appreciated. I'm sorry if I'm being oversensitive. You know the good, swotty little kid at the back of the class who never gets in trouble and goes bright red with horror when the teacher ticks them off? That's me...

Izz - no, sorry, that wasn't a flounce! I just think (and still do) that if one's so out of line on a thread a Mod needs to stamp on you, then the sensible thing is to clarify one's position and back quietly away. Believe me, if I ever do a flounce, it will be the Full Deal, with choreographed stamping and a backing group singing 'And the Lurkers Support Me on E-Mail.'

'artistes' - very puzzled by this, since there isn't an accent on 'artiste', is there??? Also, it's not remotely a pretentious word, but a very valid one with a very specific meaning. I used to work in TV, and there was a huge difference between a 'background artist' who works in the Design Department, and a 'background artiste' who was a walk-on actor. I can see why still alive might well be confused by this conversation - I certainly was.

Meanwhile, back at the plot...

There are some good points being made here about the value of having an experienced agent, and I'd like to draw out a couple of them.

Eqb's point here, for instance:

Definitely. A few months ago, I had finished a YA novel. My agent knew who would be interested in the kind of book I'd written. She also knew who had moved where. From there, she and I picked a preliminary list for submissions, but without her expertise, I would be lost.

I would absolutely agree it is an agent's job to know who's where, and who's looking for what. I too have benefited enormously from this, thanks to my agent's experience. However, something that's changed radically over recent years is the availability of this knowledge. It used to be acquired painstakingly over years of lunches and meetings, but is now (mostly) available to everyone openly on the net. Anyone can find out what editors are working where - and indeed what they're particularly looking for - simply by regular subscriptions to PW, Publishers' Brunch etc. These days many of these people give regular interviews as to what they're after, as well as talking at writers' conferences etc. They are also so desperate at present for the new big thing, some of them are actually contacting agents rather than the other way round - those little 'what have you got for me?' e-mails are starting back up again, I'm glad to say, after a few recession months of deadly quiet.

If your Google-fu is really good, you can find a lot more than that. Last November a friend of mine who also has a good agent was up for 'auction', and just by 10 minutes on the net we knew who'd just missed out on a big auction for a similar book (and would therefore have not only money on hand but also an interest in this area). We also knew who wouldn't be bidding because they'd just won the same auction and couldn't possibly afford two books of the same type in the same year. I'm sure my friend's agent would have found this out too, but when my friend mentioned it she didn't already know it...

However, there's one aspect of having an experienced agent which I think is still very important, and which Mathew obviously can't offer - and that's 'reputation'. For one thing, it makes it more likely an agent will get those nice little 'what have you got?' e-mails... For another, even if the editors your agent had long-standing relationships with have moved on, their successors are far more likely to respond to you if they know who you are and you have a proven track record. I don't say it rules you out if not - but it certainly buys speed. For instance, when I was on auction, my agent didn't waste time with anyone below the level of Editorial Director at any of the eight houses. She got my book on the desk of the top people everywhere, so there was no time wasted on 'second reads' or tricky acquisitions meetings - the only other read required was by marketing to work out the figures in order to determine the level of bid. A less well known agent might have taken months over a process which took less than two weeks to final deal (and with a book of over 200,000 words to boot).

Mathew can't offer that - no new agent can. It may not be the most important thing, but it's perhaps a factor to take into consideration when deciding whether or not to go that way.

Louise

Richard White
10-15-2009, 08:52 PM
It could be argued that phonetic dialogue requires it written as "uv" not "of". But it won't be, cuz it's waaay past time for a new topic. Ya'll go 'n' git one now, ya hear?http://foolstown.com/sm/nunu.gif

All right, Marshall, I'll git to gittin'. Don' have t'tell me twice. I know when I ain't wanted. Jest an old broke-down deputy who should be pushin' a broom in the saloon down tha street. But I'm a tellin' you, you'll regret it some day when ol' Stumpy ain't around to pull yer biskits out of the fire.

*shuffles off, with a slight limp*

Emily Winslow
10-15-2009, 09:04 PM
'artistes' - very puzzled by this, since there isn't an accent on 'artiste', is there??? Also, it's not remotely a pretentious word, but a very valid one with a very specific meaning. I used to work in TV, and there was a huge difference between a 'background artist' who works in the Design Department, and a 'background artiste' who was a walk-on actor. I can see why still alive might well be confused by this conversation - I certainly was.


Eh, I don't know if there's meant to be an accent in the word artiste, but I do know that's what was being joked about, not anyone's name.

Interesting that it's used to mean walk-on actor! In that context, do you pronounced it "ar-TEEST"?

I've only ever heard it used to describe someone who is pretentious and affected about their creative endeavors. Which is clearly what was meant when the term was introduced on the thread, with the sarcastic escalation from "writers" to "authors" to "artistes".

eqb
10-15-2009, 09:56 PM
It's always time for Haggis. :D

Beetlejuice?

Eirin
10-15-2009, 11:53 PM
*shuffles off, with a slight limp*


Is this right before our Bright Young Hero makes a rookie mistake and Ol' Stumpy comes back and saves his bacon 'cause, no matter how crancy, Ol' Stumpy's got a heart o' gold and no mistake; or is it right before Ol' Stumpy trips headlong into the horse trough while everybody laugh uproarously?

It's a matter of choosing the right roll for the mechanical piano, y'see. Can't be too careful with that.

Richard White
10-16-2009, 12:10 AM
For some reason, I was just channeling Walter Brennan's part in "El Dorado" when he and John Wayne have the big argument.

Of course, "Stumpy" saves John Wayne's bacon at the end.

Duncan J Macdonald
10-16-2009, 12:23 AM
For some reason, I was just channeling Walter Brennan's part in "El Dorado" when he and John Wayne have the big argument.

Of course, "Stumpy" saves John Wayne's bacon at the end.

Jes' as long as yer rheumatiz ain't a actin' up.

mathewferguson
10-16-2009, 01:25 PM
I took it to mean that most agents, within six months of publicly hanging out their shingle, have either a) made sales, and will probably go on to be successful, or b) have made no sales, and probably never will. Just going on the probables, Mathew seems to be falling into the latter category.

When I go to an agent's page, the first thing I look for is their list of clients and their list of recent sales. So, though I'm a Kiwi and thus would have an interest in selling to Oz markets, I'd not put this agent on my To-Query list at this time.

Why would there be any expectation that I would take on a client within a few months of starting agent work? I've rejected a LOT of books this year because I haven't found what I like. Or to put it another way: I haven't found something I consider publishable. Now I may be wrong on their chance of publication but I haven't been wrong much in the past...

In my business plan I wrote that I expected to take on one or two clients within the first year.

mathewferguson
10-16-2009, 01:39 PM
At what point does the lack of clients stop being a reason and start to be an excuse for lack of sales? He is hardly the first agent to look for the perfect client.

There is only one metric for an author examining an agent: What has he sold?



I respect you, and I like Mat. I have refrained thus far from doing full-dress line-by-line commentaries on Mat's posts. But still they do not fill me with hope.



I have my own opinions on many of the points that have been touched on. For myself, I find it amazing that a solid decade after the dot-com collapse anyone could still say "The Internet changes everything" with a straight face.

SEO (http://powazek.com/posts/2090) (again in my opinion) is the 21st century's version of phrenology.

But these are side issues, and this thread is not the venue for them.



If what Mat says about agenting in Australia is true, then agenting in Australia is, indeed, very different from agenting in the USA. On the other hand, no one has said that agents work 24/7. That's a strawman. The argument won't stand.

What is true is that, from the writer's point of view, there is no obvious difference between an agent who is working his tail off and one who is doing nothing at all. That's part of what makes it possible for fee-charging/do-nothing/scam agents to continue on year after year fooling writers. NOTE: I am not saying, or suggesting, that Mat is now or ever has charged fees or been or intends to be anything less than an outstanding agent for his clients. But it seems to me that Mat has the writer's point of view: That agents don't do much. This speaks to his inexperience, and it does not fill me with hope.

It is entirely the decision of the individual writer which (if any) agent to go with. No one has said differently.



Thank you. But you are not "guilty" of anything, nor is anyone accusing you.




This is very good, and it speaks well for him that he doesn't charge fees. Nor has anyone said, or implied, that he does. The relevance of that thread is that it covers, in some detail, what real agents do and how they do it.




I disagree that editor churn means the gradual demise of the importance of personal agent/editor relationships. The editor who leaves St. Martin's is very likely to fetch up as an editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The Fee Agent thread spoke of editors squeezed out in mergers and now unemployed. This isn't new. It wasn't new five years ago. It wasn't new twenty years ago. It is only through personal contact that the agent will know the tastes of the editors and what they've bought recently, what they're looking for, and what they reject without a second thought. If a new editor arrives on the scene it is the agent's business to learn those things about that new editor.

It is also certainly true that there are editors who have been at the same houses for the past decade or more.

It is the agent's business to know what is negotiable in a publisher's contract. It is the agent's business to know how to market sub-rights. It is the agent's business to maximize gain and balance offers. The existence of the Kindle does not change any of those things in the slightest.



I have been brief, and I hope have spoken to the point. Nor am I trying to put anyone down. I found Mat's mis-use of the term "special pleading" to be ... off-putting, and that was the point where I entered this thread. It did not predispose me well toward him. I find his reliance on the strawman argument to be ill-founded. But I feel no animus toward him. I hope he succeeds.



If I had reason to rebuke you, I would certainly do so. But I have no such reason. I admire and respect you. You may certainly leave if you must; doing so requires no permission from me. But I rather wish you wouldn't.

Hi James - I wasn't using a "strawman" when I was talking about the "agents work 24/7" comment. This was said by someone else and it wasn't hyperbole. They really do believe that agents work much longer hours than most other professions. When I paraphrase this as "agents do not work superhuman hours" or "agents do not work almost 24/7" I am not building up a strawman. I am not attempting to misrepresent a position. The posts are there for everyone to read and they can see that "agents work almost 24/7" was a direct clear statement.

To be clear: someone did say that "agents work almost 24/7" and it wasn't hyperbole.

I used the term "special pleading" correctly when I first used it. Special pleading occurs when someone attempts to use irrelevant circumstances to invalidate a claim. "Yes it may be true except for special circumstance X which means it isn't true". The special circumstances used were "Mathew is from Australia". Subsequent conversation filled out their argument which altered it from special pleading but when I initially used it, it was an accurate description of their tactic.

I think SEO is mostly bullshit but it does have its uses and the agent who isn't aware of them ... has no business being an agent.

I would never attempt to rely on a strawman argument. I'm very well aware of the many logical fallacies used in online discussion and strive to avoid them.

mathewferguson
10-16-2009, 01:48 PM
To be fair, they *might* go on to make sales.

But given a choice between New Agent A, who is making sales, and New Agent B, who isn't, the obvious choice is Agent A.

Mat does have a footprint in publishing, which is good. However, most new agents with a footprint bring in clients from the start--either clients from the agency where they worked before, or clients they edited. So far, Mat has no fiction clients and no sales. This is not good, from the point of view of a new writer seeking an agent.

If he's making sales within the next three months--which would be a year from his start--then I'd reconsider.

(Personally, I'd also want to make sure he isn't doing crap editing such as substituting "would of" for "would have" but that's just me. I like proper English.)

I'm absolutely not doing crap editing such as substituting "would of" for "would have". What it seems people have missed from my blog post on the subject is that common usage beats everything. "Would of" isn't common usage. I wrote IF it were common usage then it is correct.

There are no editorial guidelines around many forms of writing because language strides ahead of the books people write about language. I haven't seen a book on the grammatical rules around things. Like. This. This is a structure that is in use in the world but the books haven't caught up yet.

To give another example, years ago I was Australianising US fiction for our market. Footpath replaces sidewalk, etc. In the text, height was described using Imperial measurements. Six foot six is a beautiful term but the metric equivalent ... not so much. So I left it as Imperial measurement because it was common usage despite our country using the Metric system.

Common usage beats all.

mathewferguson
10-16-2009, 01:51 PM
I was being nothing of the sort. I was pointing out an error on Mr. Ferguson's part that he's perpetuating as "proper" written English, which I feel diminishes his capacity to be an effective agent.

Read the post again and think about what common usage really means. There is only one reason that "would of" would be used ... common usage. It's not commonly used now. Perhaps in ten years it will be.

We don't use Chaucerian language any longer because we have common agreement to use a different form.

Izz
10-16-2009, 02:12 PM
I'm absolutely not doing crap editing such as substituting "would of" for "would have". What it seems people have missed from my blog post on the subject is that common usage beats everything. "Would of" isn't common usage. I wrote IF it were common usage then it is correct.
Not to beat the dead horse even further, but that is not what you said (http://chaoticempire.com.au/mathew/ferguson/freelance/writer/would-have-versus-would-of/) (unless you've gone and edited the post since i read it).

Here is what you said:
Would of is wrong wrong wrong. But many people use it so it is right right right.
Would have is right and so is would of. Would of is correct by common usage.You're saying that it *is* common usage now. As eqb pointed out earlier, 'would of' sounds (in speech) very much like 'would've,' which is probably what most people are saying, and they then transliterate that to written form as 'would of' which is not actually what they're saying, so therefore can't really be common usage (and my brain is fried after a long week, so that might not sound as coherent as it should).

If you meant something else in that post, i'm having trouble seeing it.

Emily Winslow
10-16-2009, 03:08 PM
Hi James - I wasn't using a "strawman" when I was talking about the "agents work 24/7" comment.

For me, the "straw man" argument was the assertion of agent-worship in general, which I felt was unfairly targeted at the population of this site. Perhaps you meant it only to be narrowly applied, but it felt to me to be broadly aimed. Perhaps we can agree that agents are not superheros, but do work plenty hard, as all professionals should, and move on.

Mat, to get the thread back on track: Perhaps you'd like to describe what kind of thing you're looking for in a manuscript, and what you feel you can and can't offer a client at this time.

Also, under what circumstances do you feel a non-Australian writing-in-English author should consider submitting in Australia? Should there be some connection to Australia, such as the setting or an Australian character? Do you think a book with zero Australian connections could have a successful start in Australia? (As opposed to being successful elsewhere first and then being picked up by an Australian publisher.)

Eirin
10-16-2009, 03:18 PM
Why would there be any expectation that I would take on a client within a few months of starting agent work?

Because that's the norm. If you can afford to cherry-pick beyond that, then good for you, but salesrecord is the most important yardstick an author has for measuring an agent, and most startups begin to make those sales within six months to a year.


To be clear: someone did say that "agents work almost 24/7" and it wasn't hyperbole."Working 24/7" isn't hyperbole, no. It's shorthand for "someone who works hard and keeps long hours".

Thing is, your statements here indicate that you're unfamiliar with how the agenting business work, and, furthermore, that you're not particularly willing to learn. This doesn't bode well for your clients.


I'm absolutely not doing crap editing such as substituting "would of" for "would have". What it seems people have missed from my blog post on the subject is that common usage beats everything. "Would of" isn't common usage. I wrote IF it were common usage then it is correct.

There are no editorial guidelines around many forms of writing because language strides ahead of the books people write about language. I haven't seen a book on the grammatical rules around things. Like. This.

I think you're confusing common usage with phonetic transcription.


Common usage beats all.

Now that is hyperbole.


We don't use Chaucerian language any longer because we have common agreement to use a different form.

And that too.

Misa Buckley
10-16-2009, 05:15 PM
Also, under what circumstances do you feel a non-Australian writing-in-English author should consider submitting in Australia? Should there be some connection to Australia, such as the setting or an Australian character? Do you think a book with zero Australian connections could have a successful start in Australia? (As opposed to being successful elsewhere first and then being picked up by an Australian publisher.)

Thanks for posting that, Emily. As someone who is a non-Australian writing a novel with an Australian character, I'm very interested in what Mat's response is going to be.

raburrell
10-16-2009, 05:57 PM
I think SEO is mostly bullshit but it does have its uses and the agent who isn't aware of them ... has no business being an agent.
I hadn't even heard the term SEO until a few days ago, then all of a sudden, it's cropped up independently in three different places. (Here, a tongue-in-cheek New Yorker article, and in a private discussion with another writer)

Pardon the preamble, but recently, I put up a website, and while perusing the usage stats, I saw a google search string that led someone to an excerpt I'd posted from my WIP using the *weirdest* combination of search terms, one of which was a flight number that appears in the excerpt. I can't imagine that person was actually looking for my excerpt, but they did 'click through' and stay long enough to read.

I have no doubt that's a one-off, but my point (assuming anyone is still reading this message) is that it got me thinking that maybe there *is* something to SEO. Whether or not obsessing about it is worth the cost in BIC time is a different question, but that's the kind of advice I'd like to be able to get from my hypothetical agent.

James D. Macdonald
10-16-2009, 07:06 PM
... it got me thinking that maybe there *is* something to SEO.

No, there isn't. It's bullshit all the way down. Not that that stops a whole crowd of charlatans and scammers from taking it up and charging obscene amounts of hopeful businessmen (who look at the whole Internet as magic anyway). I could tell you stories of self-published authors who've plunked down upward of three grand for "SEO," where after it was done the only way to find their page on a Google search was with the exact title and author-name for their book.

If a prospective agent came to me and started talking about how expert he is with SEO, I'd point to the exit and say, "See that door? Go through it."

---------

Other issues:

Dialog. You can do anything in dialog. Absolutely anything.

This probably isn't the place to re-fight the descriptive vs. prescriptive grammarian wars.

raburrell
10-16-2009, 07:15 PM
No, there isn't. It's bullshit all the way down. Not that that stops a whole crowd of charlatans and scammers from taking it up and charging obscene amounts of hopeful businessmen (who look at the whole Internet as magic anyway). I could tell you stories of self-published authors who've plunked down upward of three grand for "SEO," where after it was done the only way to find their page on a Google search was with the exact title and author-name for their book.

If a prospective agent came to me and started talking about how expert he is with SEO, I'd point to the exit and say, "See that door? Go through it."

I certainly wouldn't pay anyone to do it, especially not as an unpublished author. Certainly not 3K. :crazy: (I did my site myself - all I pay is the registration, and if you google me, it does come up as the top result.) I meant as part of a marketing campaign for an established author, and no, I wouldn't expect it to be the kind of thing I'd be expected to pay for out of an advance either. All I meant is that I'd gotten some accidental traffic, I see a possibility that a focused effort could produce results. Then again, it could also be the 21st century version of the Shakespearean monkeys. :Shrug:

Roger J Carlson
10-16-2009, 07:44 PM
I certainly wouldn't pay anyone to do it, especially not as an unpublished author. Certainly not 3K. :crazy: (I did my site myself - all I pay is the registration, and if you google me, it does come up as the top result.) I meant as part of a marketing campaign for an established author, and no, I wouldn't expect it to be the kind of thing I'd be expected to pay for out of an advance either. All I meant is that I'd gotten some accidental traffic, I see a possibility that a focused effort could produce results. Then again, it could also be the 21st century version of the Shakespearean monkeys. :Shrug:The problem is, SEO could more accurately be termed FTSE (Fool The Search Engine). Its purpose is to create an artificially high ranking for your website. But search engine developers want their software to produce correct hits, so as soon as someone comes up with some trick to fool the search engine, search engine developers immediately program around it.

Used to be, you could drive traffic to your site by putting hundreds of random words in your Meta tags. The the search engines got wise to that and actually penalized sites for that. Then you could drive traffic to your site by having hundreds of words in invisible text on your pages. The search engines got wise to that too.

The only way to do real SEO is to have real content on real pages; content compelling enough to have other pages link to yours. No one else can do that for you for any reasonable cost.

priceless1
10-16-2009, 08:06 PM
Let me ask you this: what do you think of an agent who doesn't know what SEO is? I think they are old and out of touch. You?


Priceless: Why would they? How does search engine optimization help them sell a client's manuscript to an editor? I know a few agents who used to do book publicity, but they certainly have no use for it in their current jobs.

Boy oh boy. This is exactly the kind of blindness I've seen in those old agents.

Here is how SEO helps sell a manuscript:
Old way: Writer puts together amazing piece of work. Agent starts shopping it around. Publication or not.
New way: Writer puts together amazing piece of work. Agent helps writer build a website for writer. Writer starts putting up a page every three days to build a reading audience. Writer releases chapters on torrents, targetting keywords to draw more readers. Writer puts up pay gateway to buy rest of book OR continues to put book up for free. This activity (only a small sample of things to do) builds a reading audience and may also translate into money. Now agent starts shopping book around and it travels with "5000 downloads" attached to it. It travels with quotes from people who have read the book. It travels with the knowledge that it already has an established audience. It isn't some untested piece of work. This sells a manuscript.

Further to that, after the book is published, the writer maintains the site. The publisher may be making efforts (along with the agent) to secure foreign sales and the website serves as an excellent resource for those foreign publishers.

This is why SEO is important. And any agent who has no idea is sadly out of touch.


I think SEO is mostly bullshit ??

Eirin
10-16-2009, 08:39 PM
...

Then again, it could also be the 21st century version of the Shakespearean monkeys. :Shrug:

I kinda think it is.

I often, when searching for info on something I can't pinpoint precisely, employ scattershot search terms, strings that turn up all kinds of interesting, but ultimately irrelevant stuff. Sometimes I stay on-site to check it out.

The point is, you can't create that happenstance, it isn't indicative of any trend, and it's unlikely to lead to repeat interest in any significant way.

mathewferguson
10-18-2009, 03:40 AM
For me, the "straw man" argument was the assertion of agent-worship in general, which I felt was unfairly targeted at the population of this site. Perhaps you meant it only to be narrowly applied, but it felt to me to be broadly aimed. Perhaps we can agree that agents are not superheros, but do work plenty hard, as all professionals should, and move on.

Mat, to get the thread back on track: Perhaps you'd like to describe what kind of thing you're looking for in a manuscript, and what you feel you can and can't offer a client at this time.

Also, under what circumstances do you feel a non-Australian writing-in-English author should consider submitting in Australia? Should there be some connection to Australia, such as the setting or an Australian character? Do you think a book with zero Australian connections could have a successful start in Australia? (As opposed to being successful elsewhere first and then being picked up by an Australian publisher.)

Hi Emily -- I've set out on my website what I'm looking for and what I can offer a client.

A book would not need any Australian characters, settings or connection to be successful here. There is such a high focus on the US (being the dominant cultural market) that people forget that there is a healthy trade of books between non-US countries. French books are translated into English and sold in Australia, for example.

A US writer could do very well here (assuming they have a worthwhile manuscript) and get an edge over local writers because they are from the US. It is a bit of the mystique of the "other" that would get editors interested.

Given the rising Australian dollar, an Australian publishing deal could be quite lucrative also.

There are plenty of mid-list to lower-mid list American titles that lag along in the US because there is a lot of competition in that category. Within Australia though, some of those categories are sparsely filled and a mid-list book could do extraordinarily well.

mathewferguson
10-18-2009, 03:56 AM
Because that's the norm. If you can afford to cherry-pick beyond that, then good for you, but salesrecord is the most important yardstick an author has for measuring an agent, and most startups begin to make those sales within six months to a year.

"Working 24/7" isn't hyperbole, no. It's shorthand for "someone who works hard and keeps long hours".

Thing is, your statements here indicate that you're unfamiliar with how the agenting business work, and, furthermore, that you're not particularly willing to learn. This doesn't bode well for your clients.

I think you're confusing common usage with phonetic transcription.

Now that is hyperbole.

And that too.

Ah, more unspoken rules it seems. So apparently one must open their agency and then have clients within a very short time so as to start making sales within six months to a year?

This is an absolutely ridiculous idea!

In my business plan, as I mentioned earlier, I wrote that I expected to take on one or two clients within the first year. But I'm only going to take on clients with manuscripts that are publishable. Once I take on a client then yes, I would expect to make a sale within a reasonable time. But I'm not going to take on a client just to say that I have.

I am not unfamiliar with agent work. I've done agent work. The only thing that changed is that I decided to start charging money. I've negotiated contracts, dealt with sub-rights and international sales ... made the bloody deal.

I'm very willing to learn but if all someone has to say is that agents actually work "horrendous" hours then I'm going to strongly disagree with them. Doctors on rotating shifts work horrendous hours. Agents don't.

Wayne K
10-18-2009, 04:11 AM
I am not unfamiliar with agent work. I've done agent work. The only thing that changed is that I decided to start charging money. I've negotiated contracts, dealt with sub-rights and international sales ... made the bloody deal.


Could you elaborate?

I could make the same claim and not back it up.

mathewferguson
10-18-2009, 04:24 AM
I hadn't even heard the term SEO until a few days ago, then all of a sudden, it's cropped up independently in three different places. (Here, a tongue-in-cheek New Yorker article, and in a private discussion with another writer)

Pardon the preamble, but recently, I put up a website, and while perusing the usage stats, I saw a google search string that led someone to an excerpt I'd posted from my WIP using the *weirdest* combination of search terms, one of which was a flight number that appears in the excerpt. I can't imagine that person was actually looking for my excerpt, but they did 'click through' and stay long enough to read.

I have no doubt that's a one-off, but my point (assuming anyone is still reading this message) is that it got me thinking that maybe there *is* something to SEO. Whether or not obsessing about it is worth the cost in BIC time is a different question, but that's the kind of advice I'd like to be able to get from my hypothetical agent.

SEO is mostly bullshit, as I've said. The best two steps you can take for a website are:

1) Put up good content
2) Repeat.

If you aren't doing that then SEO is meaningless entirely.

People or firms who tell you that for a big chunk of money they can get you to the top of Google are lying by omission. They are omitting "get you to the top of Google for very specific search terms".

I'll give you an example. I released an eBook of two sentence stories on Mininova, a torrent site. It's a pdf, just over 1mb and was created in word in about ten minutes. If you google flash fiction ebook, you can see that my book owns almost the first two pages of results. Hooray ... but if you go to Google's keyword took you'll see that there are so few searches of that phrase that they don't even have any data on it. That means it is probably being search for less than 100 times per month. Could you imagine paying for this? Yes you are at the top ... but for a pointless search.

The real benefit of SEO is in thinking about the way to create your material. If you want to carve your short stories into pieces of wood and then sell them at a local market then you have a limited audience due to the medium you've used: carved wood. If you print it on paper then you widen your audience. If you blog then you widen the audience. If you blog whilst keeping in mind the most pertinent search terms your potential customers/readers/whomever use then you find more of the right people.

Say you are a freelance writer living in Melbourne. If your website doesn't say "Melbourne freelance writer" somewhere on it then you are missing out on every single search for that term. People who want to hire local writers won't find you. SEO is about knowing the rules of search engines and creating compliant content.

You could put your portfolio of writing up as a flash application ... but search engines can hardly ever read anything from them. Good SEO: put them up as single posts that are readable by people and machines.

Where SEO is bullshit is similar to where query letter are bullshit: if you don't have good content (manuscript) then it all means nothing. You can have the greatest SEO-fu in the world and for a little while people might come to your site but when you let them down they won't come back.

SEO is something to know about but if you come across someone who is using it as a main plank in their strategy then run run run.

SEO is also somewhat used as a catch-all term for being on the web or having a good presence on the web, which confuses things a little.

James says SEO is bullshit all the way down but he is using elements of it with this very website. He posts regularly, he uses the name that is also on his books, he links regularly, his profile is up to date, he uses many publishing and writing specific terms in his posts (which increases the chances of being found by Google), he appears on this forum as an expert (which increases the chance of people linking to him) ... all of which increases the chances of someone looking up his work online or picking up a book of his in the bookshop.

mathewferguson
10-18-2009, 04:36 AM
??

You're really reaching now aren't you? First I'm wrong because I'm in Australia then I'm wrong because I look young in a photo you found.

By the way, I found it most amusing that shortly before you linked to a photo of me on Channel Frederator that my backend web-stats show someone searching for Mathew Ferguson photo, Mathew Ferguson Melbourne photo ...

Was that you?

Anyways ...

Ah, the web, the place where nuanced positions come to die. Yes, I do think SEO is important whilst still thinking that it is mostly bullshit. You do know about nuance, right? Things aren't always black and white, there are shades of grey, etc. Exercise is very important but too much exercise can be harmful. Oh noes! A contradiction! SEO is very important ... but it is mostly bullshit.

Do you have anything else?

SJWangsness
10-18-2009, 05:27 AM
Jeez, I can't believe you guys are still at it.

Wayne K
10-18-2009, 05:34 AM
Originally Posted by mathewferguson View Post

I am not unfamiliar with agent work. I've done agent work. The only thing that changed is that I decided to start charging money. I've negotiated contracts, dealt with sub-rights and international sales ... made the bloody deal.



Could you elaborate?

I could make the same claim and not back it up.
:popcorn:

Scribhneoir
10-18-2009, 05:55 AM
Ah, more unspoken rules it seems. So apparently one must open their agency and then have clients within a very short time so as to start making sales within six months to a year?

This is an absolutely ridiculous idea!

Not really. If an agent doesn't start making sales within a reasonable amount of time, the impression I get is that the agent has some other source of income. I suppose he could be independently wealthy, but my first thought is that he's got another job. Personally, I don't want a part-timer handling my career. I want someone whose full-time, income producing occupation is "literary agent."

Perceptions are important. Reading through this thread, my perception is that Mathew Ferguson isn't in a hurry to find suitable clients and sell their books because he's got plenty of other (non-agenting) irons in the fire. Right or wrong, that's how it looks to me, and that alone would be enough for me to cross him off my list, even without all the other issues.

mathewferguson
10-18-2009, 07:02 AM
Could you elaborate?

I could make the same claim and not back it up.

Read my about page: http://www.mathewferguson.com.au/about.html

WistfulWriter7
10-18-2009, 07:11 AM
Wow, did I ever spend several hours reading this thread. Clearly, I am the procrastination queen.

So, after all that, I just wanted to say one thing to Mathew. Okay, two things.

1) I actually agree with a lot of what you have said especially about marketing. It is important people! However, I think for new writers, it is a very time-consuming, no short-cuts thing. For me, I've been able to build a bit of an audience for my writing by being wise to youtube, myspace, twitter, my website, blogs etc. Yes, it EATS up my time, and I don't think it will help me much to get from here to published. What I do see is the incredible word-of-mouth thing going on. This may be just for my genre and target age group, but at least for YA fantasy, I've had a great response. What this means for me is 500 friends who all have 500-1000 friends each all know me personally and would like to read my work in the future. Yay internet!

2) You spoke a lot of the deals you've made without getting paid for them. You allude to a lot of impressive work. Perhaps being more specific about which books could help you out at this stage. I'm just throwing it out there. :/
You do speak about it on that site, but perhaps here you can talk about the uncredited work?

mathewferguson
10-18-2009, 07:30 AM
Not really. If an agent doesn't start making sales within a reasonable amount of time, the impression I get is that the agent has some other source of income. I suppose he could be independently wealthy, but my first thought is that he's got another job. Personally, I don't want a part-timer handling my career. I want someone whose full-time, income producing occupation is "literary agent."

Perceptions are important. Reading through this thread, my perception is that Mathew Ferguson isn't in a hurry to find suitable clients and sell their books because he's got plenty of other (non-agenting) irons in the fire. Right or wrong, that's how it looks to me, and that alone would be enough for me to cross him off my list, even without all the other issues.

I am finding it quite fascinating to discover all the expectations built up around exactly what it takes to join the agent club.

You must have sales ... but if you're a new agent then you must have a footprint in publishing ... oh but that's not enough ... you must have worked under an established agent ... and once deciding to "hang up your shingle" as the cliche goes, you have to take on a client pretty much immediately so then you can make sales within six to twelve months ... and you must ONLY be earning money as an agent so everyone knows you are a FULL-TIME agent.

Phew ... are there any other rules we need to add?

Since working as a freelance writer and editor since the end of 2005, I've been fabulously poor and fabulously rich. I once had a $12,000 cheque arrive in the mail! I once was about $5000 in debt because four clients simultaneously decided to delay payment for no good reason. I've never had to take on a non-writing related job but I'd be lying if I said there were times when I didn't seriously consider it.

Anyways, a while ago I discovered that I had become an expert in writing children's activity books. This is a lucrative but small and very repetitive field and my freelance work started to slide more in this direction because my project list was getting seriously unbalanced. I had so much "fun" stuff on my project list that a bank once said they didn't want me to write their catalogue/sales material because "I wouldn't have any fun". It didn't matter how much corporate communication I had written - my project list was getting me typecast. So one day I decided to retire from children's activity books. I took this step to get out of being typecast and also because those projects were stopping me expanding my skills. Why bother trying to get non-fiction editing work when I can make a lazy $4000 with work that takes a day or two?

So on I went, now expanding into new areas because I had financially put myself into the position of not having any other income. I got into ghost-writing which was also lucrative but one of the worst jobs I've ever done.

Then coming into 2009 I again decided to put myself into a position of sink or swim. I cut back on freelance writing and editing work and started focussing on agent work. I turned down writing jobs. I've been watching my savings drop and yet I'm still committed. I'm representing two illustrators via On The Wall and I'm representing zero writers because I haven't found a suitable manuscript or client. The only multiple irons I have in the fire is that if someone approaches me with a particularly interesting writing job then I may take it.

I'm as committed and dedicated as any agent out there and I'll put my hand up for being someone you want to represent you because I've been a writer and an editor and a freelancer and I've done practically every job you can do in publishing and writing. I know all about being ripped off and let down by clients. I know all about what it is like to actually work in-house at a publishing company.

Please believe me: I'm looking for amazing work and I love working with writers but I'd rather go into utter poverty and close down my agency than take on someone simply because it has been months and I haven't yet taken someone on. To do that would be a spectacularly stupid move on my part. What precisely would I do with a manuscript that wasn't publishable? Turn up to meetings with something that couldn't sell? I wouldn't be seeing any of those editors again and I would show that I had no freaking idea what I was doing.

Wayne K
10-18-2009, 07:35 AM
I'm wondering why you're not working at an agency rather than start out this way. I've read all the other things you've done, I mean as an agent.

Smish
10-18-2009, 07:46 AM
I am finding it quite fascinating to discover all the expectations built up around exactly what it takes to join the agent club.

You must have sales ... but if you're a new agent then you must have a footprint in publishing ... oh but that's not enough ... you must have worked under an established agent ... and once deciding to "hang up your shingle" as the cliche goes, you have to take on a client pretty much immediately so then you can make sales within six to twelve months ... and you must ONLY be earning money as an agent so everyone knows you are a FULL-TIME agent.

Phew ... are there any other rules we need to add?


I've only recently skimmed through this thread, so I'm sure I've missed a lot of the discussion. However, I think the issue here, Mr. Ferguson, is not whether you're following the "rules", but rather whether an author has sufficient reason to put their trust in you as an agent.

You've been a writer yourself; you know how much time/energy/heart is spent in creating a project. When it goes out on submission, the writer wants to feel confident that her agent will not only be successful in selling the project, but that he is making the best choice for her future career in the business.

Without sales, it's difficult for a writer to determine your worth as an agent. You may indeed be an excellent freelance writer and editor, but that doesn't necessarily mean you'll be a great agent. Many of the writers seeking an agent are successful freelance writers and editors, too. I also happen to be a lawyer, and I'm a very good researcher, so I can certainly draft/negotiate contracts. However, I don't feel I'm qualified to be an agent.

I'm not saying that you're not qualified to be an agent; you may very well be. However, until you've made sales and have clients I can speak to, I have no way of determining whether you are or aren't.

I do wish you success as an agent, and I hope you find a publishable manuscript in your slush pile soon.